FORT KENT, Maine — Quebec musher Andre Longchamps did a lot of looking over his shoulder on the Can Am trail between Allagash and the finish line in Fort Kent early Monday.
Longchamps, who twice has finished second in the Can Am Crown Irving Woodlands 250-mile sled dog race, was looking for his first win this year, but first he and his dogs had to outrun fellow Quebec musher and four-time Can Am winner Martin Massicotte.
In the end, despite holding a slight lead coming into Fort Kent, Massicotte and his dogs were just too much for Longchamps. With 12 miles to go, Massicotte took the lead and went on to claim his fifth Can Am Crown title, making him the winningest musher in the race’s 22-year history.
Massicotte completed the course in 28:21:16, not counting his 14 hours of layovers. Longchamp posted a time of 28:22:21, not counting layovers.
“The trail conditions were excellent this year,” Massicotte said, speaking through a translator, after crossing the finish line at Lonesome Pine Ski Lodge at 5:15 a.m. Monday. “The temperatures were perfect for the dogs.”
Temperatures all weekend were well below freezing, and dipped below zero during the night.
“The only problem with the trails this year was the other competitors were too strong,” Massicotte joked.
Running this year’s race were past Can Am Crown winners Keith Aili of Ray, Minn., who set a course record in 2001 that still stands; last year’s winner Ryan Anderson of Ray, Minn.; last year’s second-place finisher and Yukon Quest veteran Denis Tremblay of Quebec; three-time Can Am Crown winner Don Hibbs of Millinocket; and two-time winner Bruce Langmaid of Ontario.
After leaving the start line Saturday morning in Fort Kent, Massicotte and Longchamps traded the lead on the trail, often arriving and leaving the race checkpoints within minutes of each other.
Longchamps arrived at the final checkpoint in Allagash at 7:54 p.m. Sunday and Massicotte pulled in nine minutes later at 8:03 p.m.
The two then had to take their mandatory four-hour rest layover before the final 43-mile push to Fort Kent.
Longchamps and his team left Allagash at 11:54 p.m. Sunday with Massicotte out at 1:03 a.m. Monday.
“When Andre left, I did not think I would see him again,” Massicotte said. “But I knew there were strong competitors behind me, so I was racing to save my second place.”
But after an hour, Massicotte spotted Longchamps’ headlamp ahead of him and the chase was on.
For three hours Longchamps was able to hold on to his lead, but after the teams passed the final safety station 12 miles from the finish line, Massicotte was able to overtake and pass him.
“We were both running at a consistent speed,” Massicotte said. “Andre was a hard man to pass.”
After crossing the finish line at 5:16 a.m. Monday, Longchamps, speaking through a translator, said he knew Massicotte had caught up with him but had hoped he could hold on for the win.
“I had good runs in all the legs of the race,” Longchamps said. “But the leg from Allagash to Fort Kent was not my best [and] I knew Martin was behind me when I saw his headlamp and I was to fight for the lead for three hours.”
Saying he is pleased with his dogs and his second-place time, Longchamps congratulated Massicotte.
“He is a fierce competitor,” Longchamps said. “He’s a good musher.”
For his part, Massicotte had high praise for Longchamps.
“Andre is at a very high level,” Massicotte said. “He was not going to give up first place easily.”
By 9:30 a.m. Monday six teams had reached the finish in Fort Kent.
Anderson’s team was in at 5:35 a.m. for a third-place finish with a time of 28:41:06 followed by Aili with a time of 29:23:11; Tremblay in 29:39:46; Langmaid in 30:04:27; and Ward Wallin of Two Harbors, Minn. in 30:15:47.
Musher Kevin Malikowski of Outing, Minn., finished at 11:57 a.m. and Christine Richardson of Canaan, N.H., finished at 4:10 p.m.
Julie Albert of Quebec, Becki Tucker of Voluntown, N.H., Gino Roussel of New Brunswick and Remy Luduc of New Brunswick all were at the Allagash checkpoint Monday evening and were expected to finish Tuesday afternoon.
Over the weekend Hibbs, Bailey Vitello of Brookfield, Mass.; Mario Racine of Quebec; Marla Bodsky of West Chesterfield, Mass.; and Sally Manikian dropped out.
“The race went really well this year,” George Theriault, race marshal, said Monday morning. “The weather played a big factor [and] it was really good for the mushers and running the dogs.”
The only real problems this year, he said, were holes left in the trails by wandering moose.
“It’s been a good year for the dogs,” Dr. Nick Pesut, head race veterinarian, said Monday morning. “They all look fit and the ones finishing look to be in excellent condition.”
A combination of hard-packed trail and those moose holes did lead to some shoulder injuries, Pesut said, but overall he is impressed by the dogs’ condition.
“It says a lot about the care these mushers give their dogs,” he said. “They really know their dogs and when they can go on and when they should be taken out of the team.”
On Saturday, the Can Am 30- and 60-mile racers took off down Main Street with Rico Portalatin of Westhampton, Mass., taking first place in the 60-mile race and Amy DeWolski of Millbury, Mass., winning the 30-mile race.
After tending their dogs and warming up at Lonesome Pine, the two top finishers in the Can Am 250 said they will be back next year.
“But I’m not sure about the 250,” Massicotte said. “It may be the 60-mile race.”
Can Am Crown Willard Jalbert Jr. Memorial 60-mile race: Rico Portalatin, Westhampton, Mass., 5:53:23; David Boyer, St-Liguori, Quebec, 6:01:33; Stephane DuPlessis, St. Zenon, Quebec, 6:04:21; Amy Dionne, St. David, 6:05:37; Sylvain Robillard, St-Gabriel de Brandon, Quebec, 6:07:38; Eric Chagnon, Parent, Quebec, 6:18:03; Ashley Patterson, Shirley, 6:32:01; Paul Boudreau, L’Assomption, Quebec, 6:35:34; Andrew Bartleet, Albany Township, 6:57:15; Jessica Holmes, Portage, 7:37:11; Gilles Harnois, St-Alexis des Monts, Quebec, 7:54:03; Spencer Thew, South Colton, N.Y., 8:33:49; Katherine Langlais, Glenwood, New Brunswick, 8:52:30; Manon Moore, St-Gabriel de Brandon, Quebec, DNF.
Can Am Crown Pepsi Bottling Company-Allen’s Coffee Brandy 30-mile race: Amy DeWolski, Millbury, Mass., 2:36:36; Peter Franke, New Durham, N.H., 2:41:19; Abbey Miller, Sandyston, N.J., 2:50:02; Holly Dionne, St. David, 2:56:25; Amy Dugan, Shirley Mills, 3:03:09; Luc Gaudreau, St-Denis de Brompton, Quebec, 3:03:10; Mark Patterson, Shirley 3:09:45; John Kaleta, Eagle Lake, 3:12:41; Kip Bartlett, Canaan, N.H., 3:14:26; Keith Webb, Port Republic, N.J., 3:18:55; Maria Gaffney, Craftsbury Common, Vt., 3:20:22; Lilly Anderson, Southwest Harbor, 3:24:49; Terry Knowles, Brownville, 3:28:02; Heather Darcey, Underhill, Vt., 3:28:35; Penny Gray, Fort Kent, 3:30:12: Nadya Healy, Brookline, Mass., 3:30:46; David Punch, Kingsbury Plt., 3:39:16; Scott Isabelle, Wolfboro, N.H., 3:49:23; Ingrid Bower, Underhill, Vt., 4:09:30; Eric Benson, Baltimore, Md., 4:17:32; Steven Davis, Richfield Springs, N.Y., 4:32:51; Al Tarr, Gibsonia, Pa., 4:33:02; Nick Van Drimmelen, Jericho Center, Vt., 5:03:50; Leigh Hunteman, Cambridge, Md., 5:08:40; Marion Lugdon, Eagle Lake, 5:11:45.