FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Former champion Dave Monson maintained an early lead all the way to the first official checkpoint at Angel Creek as the 2002 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race got under way Saturday.
Forty-one teams leaving in two-minute intervals sped down the frozen Chena River in downtown Fairbanks for the 24th-running of the thousand-mile race to Whitehorse.
Monson, of Fairbanks, who won the Quest in 1988 after finishing second in 1987, started 17th and reached North Pole at 2:04 p.m. behind 14 dogs. He was officially on his way a minute later.
He continued the fast pace 100 miles down the trail and reached Angel Creek at 7:17 p.m.
That was good enough to snatch the lead from rookie Kelley Griffin of Wasilla, who was No. 1 out of the chute in Fairbanks and the first in to Angel Creek at 7 p.m.
Dave Dalton of Wasilla, who started third, held that position at Angel Creek, reaching the checkpoint at 7:10 p.m.
Rounding out the top five were Larry Carroll of Willow, who reached the checkpoint at 8:13, and Christopher Knott of Fairbanks, who arrived at Angel Creek one minute later. Carroll started 15th and Knott 10th.
Mushers are required to stay at least two hours at Angel Creek. Most stay at least six hours to prepare for steep terrain ahead.
As of 11 p.m., nine mushers had reached the checkpoint.
Defending champion Tim Osmar of Ninilchik, who started 18th just behind Monson, reached North Pole about a half hour after Monson.
Osmar and Monson make up half of the former champions in the race. Also competing are Rick Mackey of Nenana, who won in 1997, and Frank Turner of Whitehorse, who won in 1995 and has run every Yukon Quest.
They're joined by a half-dozen mushers who have placed among the top seven in the race, making the field the most competitive Quest lineup in years, and possibly ever.
The first musher to Whitehorse takes home $30,000 and the top 15 finishers split a purse of $125,000.
On the Net:
Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race: http://www.yukonquest.com/
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