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Mushers praise trail conditions as Portalatin wins Can-Am 100, Coutu takes 30

FORT KENT, Maine — Rico Portalatin of Milo said weather conditions ahead of the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races had him concerned, but he was relieved and pleased when he encountered the trail conditions while competing in the Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am Crown 100. 

“I want to thank the folks who organized this race and the guys who did the trails,” Portalatin said at a Sunday breakfast banquet at Lonesome Pine Trails to honor mushers and race volunteers. Even as the breakfast was underway, competitors in the grueling 250-mile race remained on the course. They aren’t expected to begin crossing the finish line until sometime early Monday.

“There were 60-70 mile per hour winds (in the days leading up to the race). That was freaking me out the last couple of days before the race,” said Portalatin, who took first place in the 100-mile race on Saturday. “To see the trails, the way [they were] that must have taken a ton of work to do that.”

All 14 mushers who registered for the Can-Am 100 completed the race, including Florence Shaw of Quebec. At just 13 years old, Shaw finished in eighth place.

Musher Hannah Lucas and her team cross the finish line of the Can-Am Crown 30 mile race at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent on Saturday, March 2. (Jessica Potila)

Bailey Vitello of New Hampshire took second, and Denis Tremblay of Quebec finished in third.

Daniel Coutu of Saint-Claude, Quebec, who won the Pepsi and Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy Can-Am Crown 30 on Saturday also expressed appreciation during Sunday’s breakfast for the volunteers who maintained the trails.

“Considering the weather conditions and all the snow (that fell in northern Maine prior to the race), I am very grateful to the volunteers. They did a nice job,” he said.

Lara Renner of New Hampshire finished the 30 mile race in second place, followed just 10 seconds later by Julie Albert of Quebec.

Hannah Lucas of Caribou was thrilled with her 14th place finish out of 27 competitors registered in the 30 mile race, her first ever sled dog competition. Lucas, 21, moved from Virginia to Caribou last fall where she bought a home just so she could train for and compete in Can-Am events.

It seems Lucas’ decision to move to Aroostook County was fortified by her Can-Am experience.

“It was amazing. I will definitely be entering every year from here on out,” she said on Saturday. “Some of the hills were scary to go down, and I flipped the sled once or twice but I made it and it was awesome.”

Lucas said she also was very pleased with her team’s performance.

“Their willpower, determination and perseverance has completely blown me away. Watching them was what encouraged me to keep going even when the hills got tough.

Musher Rico Portalatin of Milo crossed the finish line at Lonesome Pine Trails just after 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 2 to win the 2019 Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am Crown 100. (Jessica Potila)

I hope to continue to grow with them and help each other reach our full potential,” she said.

Many of the mushers at the breakfast banquet indicated that they plan to return to Can-Am next year.

“We’re so grateful that we can always count on the fact that this race will be here for us year after year, and year after year you guys put on a class event for us. It just makes us want to come back,” said Gavin Baker of Ontario. “This race is really important to mushers, especially mushers from Ontario and Quebec. There are no races for us in our own provinces.”

Musher Jaye Foucher of New Hampshire said she has organized multiple races in that state and appreciates the Can-Am event.

“It blows my mind how many volunteers you have and how well run this organization is,” she said. “The trails are beautifully marked. It’s an amazing amount of work that goes into marking trails and maintaining them, just incredible. I hope it continues for many more years.”  

Can-Am President Dennis Cyr said the organization welcomes more trail volunteers to help ensure the race’s longevity.

“The average age of the trail crew is 64-66 years-old. We need the young people to step up,” he said.

As of Sunday afternoon, nine-time Can-Am 250 winner Martin Massicotte and Andre Longchamps, both from Quebec, were leading the field of 14 mushers and their teams in that race. There will be an awards ceremony and dinner to celebrate the Can-Am 250 athletes on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Fort Kent.

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