Former champion takes early lead in Iditarod

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- A four-time champion has taken the early lead in the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Martin Buser, who last won in 2002, was the first to reach the checkpoint at Rainy Pass, arriving at 5:42 a.m. Monday. In second is Kelly Maixner, who left the previous checkpoint at Finger Lake 30 miles to the southeast at 2:49 a.m., followed 11 minutes later by Nicolas Petit.

Sixty-nine mushers began the race to Nome on Alaska's Western coast Sunday afternoon in Willow. An 11-mile noncompetitive, ceremonial start took place in Anchorage Saturday.

The jockeying for the lead remains fluid until mushers begin taking a mandatory 24-hour layover and two eight-hour rests.

The race normally takes about 10 days, but warm weather this winter in Alaska has prompted concerns about the trail.