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In Pictures: Sled dogs begin epic trek across Alaska in gruelling challenge

This year’s race comes following a doping scandal and increasingly vocal opposition from animal rights activists.

The gruelling Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race is under way in a challenge which is expected to last nine days for the winner.

Mushers from all over the world are in Alaska for the race in inhospitable conditions which have angered animal rights activists and following a year when doping allegations overshadowed the event.

The race takes dogs and mushers from Lake Willow, north of Anchorage, nearly 1,000 miles to the Bering Coast former gold rush town of Nome.

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Rookie musher Matt Failor, of Willow, Alaska, gets friendly with Pantera, a female dog in his team Michael Dinneen/AP)
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Lead dogs on the sled dog team of Ryan Redington howl before the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (Mark Thiessen/AP)
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Ryan Redington leaves the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race starting chute (Rachel D’Oro/AP)
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Alaskan musher Jim Lanier’s dog team is all smiles during the ceremonial start (Michael Dinneen/AP)
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Iditarod
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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals campaigner Tricia Lebkuecher speaks to a reporter in Anchorage (Michael Dinneen/AP)
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Dogs on the sled dog team of Ryan Redington (Mark Thiessen/AP))
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Handler Elin Bentsen poses with Hudson before the start of the race (Mark Thiessen/AP)
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Musher Scott Janssen, left, and his wife, Debbie, pack his sled ahead of the official start (Mark Thiessen/AP)
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Musher Anja Radano of Talkeetna, Alaska, a native of Germany, prepares her sled (Mark Thiessen/AP)
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Musher Aliy Zirkle runs her team during the ceremonial start (Michael Dinneen/AP)

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