FORT KENT – Three-time Can-Am Crown winner Martin Massicotte overflowed with enthusiasm Friday at the chance of matching the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race record of his friend Andre Nadeau by winning his fourth crown this weekend.
Massicotte, 37, of St. Tite, Quebec, is running the Irving Woodlands 250-mile classic for the 10th time in the 14 years of the race. Besides winning it three times, he was second one year and was third three times.
Nadeau, who is no longer into sled dog racing, won the Iditarod qualifier at Fort Kent four years in a row from 1993 to 1996. Don Hibbs of Millinockett has won it three times, but he is not in the lineup this weekend.
The field of 25 other mushers doesn’t intend to make it easy for Massicotte.
Leading the field of contenders are Bruce Langmaid of Ontario who has won it twice, Rene Marchildon of Ontario who was second last year and Bruce Linton of Vermont who was 10th last year in his rookie year.
Women can’t be left out of the equation. There’s Amy Dugan, a four-time veteran of the race who finished fourth last year. Twenty-year-old Ashley Simpson finished fourth two years in a row, and Rita Wehseler who finished seventh in 2001, is the first woman to ever finish the classic.
Fort Kent welcomed the 81 teams and their handlers Thursday and Friday. Banners proclaiming their feelings for the event hung all over town in business windows and on roadside signs.
“Welcome Mushers and Fans,” can be seen all over the place. Pickup trucks hauling trailers loaded with dogs were all over town Friday, a day of registrations and veterinary checks of all dogs running in the three races on Saturday.
Along with the Irving Woodlands 250, mushers are also competing in the Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am 60-mile race and the Pepsi/Budweiser Can-Am 30-mile race.
All races have Main Street starts Saturday beginning with the 60-mile race teams at 8 a.m. The teams in the 30-mile race start at 9 a.m. and the 250-mile racing teams head out at 10 a.m.
“I had a bad winter, but we are in pretty good form right now,” Massicotte said Friday afternoon during his vet check. ” I am looking to be up front at the finish line,” he added with a large smile on his face.
Marchildon said he was also in good shape, and unlike Massicotte he had a good training season in South River, Ontario.
“The dogs are in great shape,” said Marchildon, also known as the singing musher because that’s what he does on the trail. “I’m looking for a good weekend.
“The dogs and I are both ready to go,” he said. “I’ve let the dogs have an [off week], and they should be gung ho in the morning.”
Langmaid, a Blackstock, Ontario, kennel owner, was just as optimistic as Massicotte.
“It’s looking good and the dogs are in great shape,” he said while untangling gang lines in the parking lot at the Lonesome Pine Lodge. “I’m cautiously optimistic because the 250 is not an easy run as many of us have seen over the years.