Story last updated at 3/12/2014 - 2:26 pm
NOME (AP) - In a year marked by injuries and dangerous conditions, the final stages of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race were coming down to either a record-tying number of wins or the first woman to claim victory in 24 years.
One of those appeared to be the likely outcome of this year's nearly 1,000-mile race across Alaska, as the first two mushers arrived at the second-to-last checkpoint Monday morning. They were Jeff King, 58, and Aliy Zirkle, 44, both of Alaska.
King, a four-time champion, is attempting to become the race's second five-time champion. He arrived at 7:02 a.m. at the White Mountain checkpoint, 77 miles from the finish line in Nome.
Zirkle, 44, who has finished second in the last two Iditarods, arrived at 7:59 a.m. Mushers are required to take an eight-hour layover in White Mountain before the final push on the Bering Sea ice to Nome.
A winner could reach the finish line as soon as early Tuesday, with mushers on what appears to be a record pace despite poor trail conditions.
"We were flying through there," King told the Iditarod website following Sunday's run between the checkpoints in Elim and Koyuk.
"I really thought I would open up a big space between me and Aliy," he said. But he quickly added that, as he has done before, "I have underestimated the speed of her team and what she can get out of it."
He believed he was far ahead of her, but then saw her headlamp near the village of Golovin.
Not to be counted out just yet is 2012 champion Dallas Seavey, who was running third and pulled into White Mountain at 9:48 a.m.
King and Zirkle have been leap-frogging each other in the latter portion of the race.