FORT KENT, Maine — Quebec musher Mario Racine held onto his lead in the Can Am Crown 250 for 230 miles until Ryan Anderson overtook his team on the final leg between Allagash and Fort Kent.
Anderson went on to claim his first Can Am Crown win and bragging rights as the only musher to capture back-to-back UP-200 and Can Am Crown wins in the same year.
“I wanted to come here and win both the Can Am and UP in the same year,” the 30-year-old carpenter from Ray, Minn., said at the finish line at Lonesome Pine Ski Lodge on Monday morning. “As far as I know, it’s never been done.”
The UP 200, run by the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association, is considered one of the top mid-distance races in the Midwest, covering 240 miles in northern Michigan. That race takes place in February.
In the Can Am, Anderson covered the 250 miles of trail in 31 hours, 22 minutes and 16 seconds — less than a minute ahead of Racine.
Fifteen mushers took off from Fort Kent at the race’s start Saturday morning in a snowstorm that ultimately dumped 10 inches of fresh snow on a trail that had more than 2 feet of snow deposited on it the previous week.
Fellow Minnesotan Rita Wehseler passed four-time Can Am Crown 250 winner Martin Massicotte of Quebec within the final 10 miles of the race to claim third position, crossing the finish line at 10:06 a.m.
Right behind her in fourth was Laura Daugereau of Kingston, Wash.
Massicotte arrived in Fort Kent at 10:42 a.m.
“There was a lot of snow,” Anderson said. “I planned on taking some extra rest at Rocky Brook because of that slow trail [and] we took some extra rest at Maibec to give the dogs some rest plus it was warm.”
The colder it is, the happier the dogs are, so Anderson took some time to assure his team was on the trail after the sun and daytime temperatures went down.
While it was the best choice for his dogs, those extra minutes of rest could have cost him the race, given the close finish with Racine.
“I knew I did not want to give up too much time to Mario,” Anderson said. “And it’s a good thing I did not [because] he had an awesome run into Allagash.”
Anderson was confident he could make up any time to catch his nearest competitor, but he also knew there was tough competition out on the trails between Fort Kent and Allagash.
This year’s field of mushers included past Can Am 250 winners Martin Massicotte and Bruce Langmaid and top finishers Andre Longchamps, Rita Wehseler and Ward Wallin.
After taking his mandatory five-hour layover at Allagash, Anderson headed down the final 43 miles of trail to the finish at 3:15 a.m. Monday and 20 miles later saw Racine’s headlamp.
“At that point I did not know how he or his dogs were doing,” Anderson said. “I didn’t know if he was driving them or holding back in case he got passed and needed a burst for the finish.”
Anderson passed the Quebec musher and five miles later lost sight of him.
“He stayed with me for a while but I was able to pull away slowly,” he said. “My dogs did good — really, really good.
What makes the victory a bit sweeter is the fact nine of the Can Am dogs were on his winning UP 200 team.
“Ryan was the hunter and I was the hunted,” Racine, 48, said after coming in at 8:19 Monday morning. “Twenty miles out of Allagash he saw me and thought ‘there is my prey’ and at that point I knew he had to get me.”
Despite giving up his lead with just over 20 miles to go, Racine was all smiles at the finish.
“I am very happy with my run and my dogs are all in good shape,” Racine said.
Racine placed fifth in last year’s Can Am 250 and says with his second place this year, “I have one more place to get.”
On hand at the finish was Can Am chief veterinarian Nick Pesut, who was very pleased by what he saw.
“Ryan and Mario came in with 10 dogs each and they all looked like really happy, happy dogs,” he said. “We are not seeing any extraordinary injuries or issues this year.”
All Can Am 250 mushers started on Saturday with 12 dogs each, and by Monday only Al Hardman of Ludington, Mich., still had a full team.
Local favorite Larry Murphy, who is retiring from racing after this year’s Can Am, was about two miles out of Allagash on Monday afternoon, where he will take at least a five-hour layover. He is expected in Fort Kent around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Among the other mushers, 31 dogs overall had been dropped from the race between Portage and Allagash.
“They were being dropped mostly because they were tired,” Pesut said. “Not due to any bad injuries.”
Race marshal George Theriault said the Can Am continues to enjoy a solid reputation among mushers in North America.
“People like this race and it will continue to have a good reputation for many years,” he said.