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FORT KENT, Maine — The three frontrunners in the Can-Am Crown 250-mile sled dog race had reached the final checkpoint in Allagash early Sunday evening and were taking a mandatory four-hour rest before the final 48-mile push to the finish line in Fort Kent.
First in was five-time Can-Am Crown 250 winner Martin Massicotte of Saint-Tite, Quebec, who arrived just before 7 p.m., followed quickly by fellow Quebec mushers Andre Longchamps and Denis Tremblay.
The trio has been racing within a half hour of each other since the race began down Main Street in Fort Kent on Saturday morning.
As of Sunday evening, according to the Can-Am’s website, Massicotte is predicted to win his sixth Can-Am 250 coming in around 1:40 a.m. Monday at Lonesome Pine Ski Lodge and possibly setting a new course record thanks to hard-packed trails and cold temperatures.
“The conditions are good and fast,” said Mark Patterson, whose wife, Ashley Patterson, is racing in the Can-Am 250. “Ashley and the dogs looked great and full of energy.”
Mark Patterson, who placed third in the Can-Am Crown 60-mile race on Saturday, was on hand at the race’s first checkpoint on the shores of Portage Lake that night as musher after musher came across the frozen lake 67 miles south of Fort Kent.
Late Sunday evening, seven mushers were on the trail between the third checkpoint at Camp Syl-Ver and Allagash with the last one remaining scheduled to leave by 7:30 p.m. All remaining teams were expected to arrive in Fort Kent throughout the day Monday.
Three mushers had dropped out of the race as of Sunday evening.
On Saturday, two veteran Can-Am mushers took the top spots at the 30- and 60-mile races, setting a blistering pace on the hard packed and frozen trails.
Rico Portalatin of Milo completed the 60-mile course in 05:33:29 to claim his third Can-Am Crown 60 win.
Bailey Vitello, of Brookfield, Massachusetts, who has been racing in Fort Kent since he was 11-years-old, took first place in the 30-mile race with a time of 02:35:35.
“The trail was very firm and fast,” Portalatin, who has his sights set on racing the Can-Am 250 in the future, said Sunday morning. “Clearly, it caused our times to be faster.”
Temperatures were below zero at the start of the race Saturday, but Portalatin said they warmed up enough as the morning when on that at the 50-mile mark, he and his 8-dog team took a brief break.
“I paused with the team so they could roll around a bit [in the snow], and that made a difference,” he said. “That full sunshine is very strong this time of year.”
For his part, Vitello said it was a combination of young and old that took him to his first Can-Am win in a race he said is world class.
“My team was amazing,” he said Sunday morning. “I had a yearling pup [named] Chein in lead and my old man Kermit, [a] 10-year-old dog that got me through the Junior Iditarod when the going got tough.”
Now 18, Vitello said he was excited to see younger mushers entering the Can-Am, including 12-year-old Lara Renner, who placed fourth in her first 30-mile race Saturday.
“Lara is awesome,” Vitello said. “She is very dedicated and has the family support to run dogs — two things a young musher needs.”
Race information and projections can be found at Can-Am-Crown.net.