STORY UPDATED AT 8:00 p.m. 3/5/13:
Aaron Burmeister checked into McGrath with about 45-minute lead Tuesday evening in Iditarod XLI.
Burmeister was the first into McGrath, securing the Spirit of Alaska award, which he last won in 2009.
Aliy Zirkle held onto the number two spot and checked into McGrath at 7:17 p.m. Lance Mackey followed in third place and Mitch Seavey in fourth place.
The top four teams spent little time at the stop and immediately checked out, heading to Takotna.
"I'm just kind of sticking right to my game plan and again it's a shock to me," Burmeister said checking into Nikolai earlier Tuesday morning.
He said his dogs have yet to peak, and enjoy the long runs.
STORY UPDATED AT 12:41 p.m. 3/5/13:
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race’s field was stacking up in Nikolai Tuesday afternoon, with race leaders beginning to balance taking required layovers versus maintaining positions ahead of the pack.
Race standings list Iditarod XLI’s top three mushers -- Aaron Burmeister, Lance Mackey and Aliy Zirkle -- as reaching Nikolai within an hour Tuesday, with Burmeister arriving at 8:11 a.m., Mackey pulling in at 8:52 a.m. and Zirkle showing up at 9:02 a.m. Burmeister is the only musher to depart the checkpoint, leaving at 12:25 p.m.
As of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, at least 20 teams had already reached Nikolai, with another 29 listed as en route from the previous checkpoint of Rohn.
The race’s previous leaders, Martin Buser and Matt Failor, reached Rohn Monday at 9:53 a.m. and 2:11 p.m. respectively -- where they took their 24-hour layovers, allowing much of the field to overtake them.
In a blog post from Nikolai just after noon, musher Sebastian Schnuelle says teams are already gathering steam to push beyond the checkpoint.
“Currently some of the mushers are getting up and gearing to leave,” Schnuelle wrote. “The weather seems to be a concern. (The) daytime highs are supposed to be 36 tomorrow in McGrath, but even higher around 41 in Grayling for Friday. That will have to play into each musher’s strategy.”
Scott Janssen, the famous Anchorage-based “Mushin’ Mortician,” scratched from the race at Rainy Pass Monday afternoon citing the safety of his team. He was only the second of this year’s 66 teams to do so, with Ed Stielstra scratching before the race formally began due to a training accident.
Watch KTUU.com’s special Iditarod section and Channel 2 Sports for full coverage of the 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Contact Chris Klint