NOME, Alaska - Lance Mackey couldn't shake four-time champion Jeff King and his faster team.
So Mackey pulled off a stunt at the Elim checkpoint - 123 miles from the Nome finish line - that proved to be the turning point en route to winning his second consecutive Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race yesterday.
Mackey arrived at the Elim checkpoint Tuesday three minutes ahead of his rival, drank coffee, and made a show of settling in for a nap. He told volunteers to wake him in an hour and - with King snoring - sneaked out 70 minutes ahead his opponent.
"I just beat the best musher in the world," the 37-year-old throat cancer survivor said after he crossed the finish line.
Fans mobbed Mackey along the final 10 blocks.
"He baited me to sleep, was waiting until I closed my eyes," said King, who won in 2006. "I didn't open them until after he got out the door."
Mackey's win was a repeat of his 2007 feat, when he became the first musher to win back-to-back runs in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and the Iditarod. Last month, he won his fourth straight Quest. "I'm not much to brag very often, but damn, I'm going to this time," said Mackey, from Fairbanks, whose father and brother won past Iditarods. "I don't know exactly how to explain it. I'm just blessed with an incredible dog team."
Mackey used many of the same dogs that competed in those races in the trek across some of Alaska's harshest terrain.
He also struggled with dogs stricken with diarrhea and slowed by unseasonably warm weather.
"They're the best dogs, hands-down," Mackey said.
Mackey's dogs also quarreled on the trail. He had to drop Hobo - a leader Mackey called the speed and driving force of the team - who was badly injured in an ongoing rivalry with Larry, another leader considered the brains.