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Musher contending to be first-ever female 250-mile race winner

Posted March 04, 2012, at 4:30 p.m.
Last modified March 05, 2012, at 1:43 a.m.

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Leigh Hunteman of Cambridge, Md., takes off down Main Street in Fort Kent on Saturday, March 3, 2012. Hunteman wore a colorful outfit and festooned her team with matching booties. There are 63 mushers taking part in the 20th running of the race.
Jen Lynds | BDN
Leigh Hunteman of Cambridge, Md., takes off down Main Street in Fort Kent on Saturday, March 3, 2012. Hunteman wore a colorful outfit and festooned her team with matching booties. There are 63 mushers taking part in the 20th running of the race. Buy Photo
It was a snowy day for mushers and dogs during the Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent on Saturday, March 3, 2012. Here, a team of dogs awaits their turn at the start line.
Jen Lynds | BDN
It was a snowy day for mushers and dogs during the Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent on Saturday, March 3, 2012. Here, a team of dogs awaits their turn at the start line. Buy Photo
Volunteers at the Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent help a musher keep his excited dogs from taking off before the official start time on Saturday, March 3, 2012. There are 63 mushers taking part in the 20th race.
Jen Lynds | BDN
Volunteers at the Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent help a musher keep his excited dogs from taking off before the official start time on Saturday, March 3, 2012. There are 63 mushers taking part in the 20th race. Buy Photo

FORT KENT, Maine — Officials watching the 250-mile trek in the 20th Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Races said early Sunday evening that they are watching a promising field of racers vie for the top prize, including a Washington woman who, if she takes the lead, could be the first-ever female winner of the 250-mile race.

Pat Dow, a race official, said Sunday that the race is going “very well.” By 3:30 p.m. Sunday, racers had dropped nine dogs. Denis Tremblay dropped two at Rocky Brook, and Rob Cooke and Rita Wehseler each had to drop one dog there. Martin Massicotte dropped two dogs in Maibec, as did Mario Racine. Larry Murphy dropped a dog in Portage.

Race officials were projecting Sunday evening at 3:45 p.m. that Mario Racine would best Ryan Anderson for the win.

The projections don’t assume any excess layover and they do not take into account changes in weather and sometimes change, as happened Sunday when they initially projected that Anderson would win.

Racine is a 48-year-old from Saint Cecile De Milton, Quebec. He placed fifth in the Can Am 250 in 2008.

Anderson is a 30-year-old carpenter who lives in Ray, Minn. He finished second in the Can Am 250 in 2010 and took first place in the Beargrease Marathon in 2011. He has been mushing for 26 years and this is his third Can Am 250.

But longtime musher and Can Am spectator Julia Bayly of Fort Kent, who is a freelance writer for the Bangor Daily News, said Sunday that mushers know that the race really begins on the trail from Maibec to Allagash, and that mushing is not mathematical and doesn’t always fall in line with projections.

Ten mushers were in Maibec by 3:15 p.m. Sunday, and one musher, Mario Racine, had left for Allagash.

“Nobody has scratched and mushers have said that conditions are pretty good,” Dow said Sunday. “The temperatures are a bit high, though.”

Dow said that Laura Daugereau of Kingston, Wash., is “quite a force, too” even though projections at 4 p.m. Sunday had her finishing 10th.

Daugereau, 30, works in construction and has a wealth of racing experience, including coming in 64th at the Iditarod in 2008. She has won six “Best Kept Team” awards at various races and has won two sportsmanship awards. She is 30 years old. There has never been a female winner of the Can Am 250.

Heavy snow fell amid a cacophony of cheers and applause Saturday morning as 63 mushers took off from the center of town. The annual event includes three races with a separate purse for each. The longest is the Irving Woodlands Can Am 250, and the winner gets $29,000. The winner of the Willard Jalbert Jr. Can Am 60 gets $7,000. The winner of the Pepsi Bottling Can Am 30 takes home $4,000.

Mushers from as far away as Scotland and South Africa flocked to the community and thousands of people lined Main Street to cheer them on when the Willard Jalbert Jr. Can Am 60 began. Mushers also took part in the Pepsi Bottling Can Am 30.

Anny Malo of St. Zenon, Quebec, won the 30-mile race in 2:59:40, besting second-place finisher Rico Portalatin of Westhampton, Mass., who finished in 03:09:44. Amy Delano of Orono was third with a time of 03:23:17.

In the 60-mile race, Marco Rivest of St. Zenon, Quebec, crossed the finish line before Seppe Maes of South River, Ontario. Rivest finished the route in 06:43:44, while Maes completed it in 07:07:11. Rene Marchildon of South River, Ontario, finished third in 7:09:00.

The Irving Woodlands Can Am 250 got under way shortly after 10 a.m. All three races began on Main Street near KeyBank and ran about a mile through town before turning onto the trail into the north Maine woods.

It was a bittersweet moment for several racers making their final appearance in the Can Am. John Kaleta of Eagle Lake was the very first musher to head out on the trail for the 250-mile race 20 years ago. He completed the 30-mile race Saturday and is now retired. Larry Murphy of Fort Kent, who has competed in the race for 10 years, also will retire after finishing the 250-mile race.

Throughout Fort Kent, businesses hung signs to laud the mushers and other visitors, and groups offered hot chocolate and other goods. Several politicians, including U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, attended the event, as did candidates running for office.

Mushers described the trail as difficult on Saturday afternoon. The region received nearly 20 inches of snow last week, but temperatures never dropped low enough to harden it. The dogs were sinking into the snow as they ran.

Denis Tremblay of St. Michel des Saints, Quebec, was competing in the 250-mile race. He said that Canada didn’t experience the early lack of snow that Mainers saw.

“I had a good experience with training,” he said Saturday. “The snow around my home was very deep. I was able to begin training in snow in early December.”

Tremblay said that his main race strategy was to finish.

“I trained hard and I have a good team,” Tremblay said. “They are in good shape. I have a good feeling about this race.”

Chris St. Stevens of Massachusetts was taking a snowmobile vacation in Maine and heard about the Can Am when he saw a poster in the window of a Fort Kent business.

“I love mushing, even though it’s a sport I don’t take part in,” he said Saturday afternoon. “But I just love how excited these dogs are to take off and just rip down the trail like they are the ones who are going to spend that prize money. Its amazing.”

Check out the BDN for additional race information on Monday.

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