Can-Am races successful in spite of challenges

Posted March 09, 2010, at 10:22 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2011, at 8:58 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — When Ashland, N.H., musher Jaye Foucher crossed the finish line at 8:25 p.m. Monday, the 2010 Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250 Sled Dog Race was done for another year.

Earlier that morning, at 3:15 a.m., Matt Carstens of Whitefield, N.H., arrived in Fort Kent to claim his second win in as many years.

Twenty-five teams began the race Saturday during the Main Street start, heading first to Portage and then into the Maine woods to the checkpoints at Rocky Brook and Maibec.

The final leg of the grueling, 250-mile race took the teams from Allagash back into Fort Kent.

The Can-Am 250 was one of three sled dog races in Fort Kent over the weekend. On Saturday a total of 56 teams took part in the Willard Jalbert Memorial Can-Am 60 and the Pepsi Bottling Group Can-Am 30.

Dave Turner of Sandy, Ore., won the 60-mile race with a time of 5 hours, 45 minutes, 23 seconds. Coming in second was Sylvain Voyer of St-Donat-de-Rimouski, Quebec, in 5:52:02; with Todd Sullivan of Lanark, Ontario, finishing third in 5:53:02.

Genevieve Telmosse of Val-de-lacs, Quebec, won the 30-mile race in 2:22:21 with Rico Portalatin of Westhampton, Mass., two minutes behind to take second place. Jack Trottier of St-Gabriel-de-Rimouski, Quebec, posted a time of 2:29:24 to claim third.

“It went awfully well this year,” Rita Canaan, Can-Am Crown Board of Directors president, said Tuesday afternoon. “I do believe this was one of our best years ever.”

And arguably one of the most challenging.

A February that broke two mushing-unfriendly records — warmer than normal and little to no snow accumulation — presented event organizers with some major challenges.

The traditional start of the race is along a stretch of Fort Kent’s Main Street from Meadow Lane to a point before the international bridge where teams turn up and over the dike adjacent to the St. John River.

This year, an army of volunteers worked with a municipal crew to bring in snow from out of town needed to line the staging areas, the start line and the top of dike, which was down to bare ground.

“It was a real challenge,” Canaan said. “But thanks to members of the town crew who helped out, we were able to pack snow on the dike plus on Meadow Lane and Main Street for the races.”

Snow was not much of a problem on the woods trails, which remained firm and fast throughout the race, but there was no controlling temperatures that climbed close to 50 degrees each day.

“The veterinarians reported there were no problems with hydration for the dogs after the races,” longtime Can-Am volunteer Sandy Labbe said. “For as warm as it was, that surprised them.”

That level of conditioning for the canine athletes came as no surprise for race marshal George Theriault, who early Monday morning said the Can-Am increasingly attracts a higher caliber of mushers from around the country and Canada.

“Look at the times this year,” Theriault said. “This is the first time in 18 years no teams scratched in Portage or Rocky Brook.”

Trail conditions and dog health did catch up to a few mushers, however, with nine teams dropping out between Maibec and Allagash.

On Saturday the warm weather brought out a record crowd to watch the three races get under way. Organizers say approximately 8,500 people were lining Main Street to cheer on the mushers.

“The town was just ecstatic by the turnout,” Canaan said. “I talked to some of our sponsors and they are so pleased and said they could not have asked for a better weekend or event.”

Canaan said that level of satisfaction makes her job easier when she goes to solicit sponsorship next year, something crucial in funding the races’ $40,000 purse.

“It is always amazing in Fort Kent,” Canaan said. “The people here always manage to pull through.”

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