Second time was the charm for the two division winners in the River Runner 100 Sled and Skijor Race over the weekend.
Both the winner of the sled dog race, Normand Casavant, and the skijor race, Darryl Sheepway, were competing for a second time and took the top spots with time to spare. The two winners, both of Whitehorse, loved the conditions and were thrilled with the performance of their teams.
“It was very, very fast,” said Casavant. “I had no problems at all. My dogs were completely crazy, happy. There’s nothing to say (other) than everything was perfect.”
“The trail was really hard and fast and I think my dogs had the performance of their careers,” said Sheepway. “I’m really proud of my dogs because they ran faster and harder than they had in any training run all year.”
Casavant completed the two-day, 130-mile trip from Whitehorse to Mendenhall and back, crossing the finish line at Shipyards Park in nine hours and 38 minutes on Sunday. He was first to Mendenhall, passing all 10 dog sled teams and three skijor teams that started before him. Casavant took the lead by the end of the Takhini River section on the way to Mendenhall and held it to the end.
With four-time Yukon Quest champion Hans Gatt not far behind, his lead was never safe.
“When I was in front, after I passed everybody, I decided to slow down my team because I knew I was in front and I knew I had another 65 miles to do after the mandatory layover in Mendenhall,” said Casavant. “When I left Mendenhall after my six-hour break, I knew Hans Gatt was behind me and he’s one of the best competitors in the world.
“I decided to let my dogs go and they were so happy they ran all the way.”
First-time competitor Gatt finished second with a time of 10:43. Ed Hopkins, who came ninth in the 2010 inaugural race, took third with a time of 11:03.
Casavant finished second at last year’s River Runner. He has also won the Carbon Hill Sled Dog Race’s 30-mile dogsled division the last two years.
Casavant competed in the Yukon Quest in 2009 and 2010, finishing 10th both years. (Interestingly, in 2010 Casavant took 10th with 10 dogs, finishing in 10 days and just under 10 hours.)
He plans to enter his third Yukon Quest next year now that his team is not so young.
“The breed I got from (Gatt’s) place is a good breed and he was really happy about that,” said Casavant. “We’re always happy to see that the breed we have is a good one.”
Unlike the sled division, Mendenhall was the finish line for the skijorers. The River Runner had previously been the longest annual skijor race in the world. However, with the addition of a 65-mile skijor this year, no skijorers entered the 130-mile skijor division.
Sheepway finished in 5:44, reaching Mendenhall behind just four sled teams. In second was Gaetan Pierrard, the 2010 winner of the 130-mile skijor category of the River Runner, finishing at 7:43. Amelie Janin was third with a time of 9:13.
“The weather was fantastic. It was clear, calm, there was no wind and the temperature was perfect for running sled dogs,” said Sheepway. “It was just around the minus-20 mark, which is just ideal for racing dogs.”
Sheepway’s victory comes just a week after winning his first Yukon Brewing Twister series race. He finished third in the inaugural 2010 River Runner, then called the Road Runner 100.
The River Runner 100 was organized by the Dog Powered Sports Association of the Yukon and, for the first time, it was directly affiliated with the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous sled dog races. River Runner teams left Shipyards Park following the Rendezvous races on Saturday afternoon.
1st Normand Casavant - 9:38
2nd Hans Gatt - 10:43
3rd Ed Hopkins – 11:03
4th Martine LeLevier - 11:15
5th Gerry Willomitzer - 11:31
6th Will van Randen - 12:12
7th Steve Gibbons - 12:14
8th Claudia Wickert - 12:15
9th Alexandra Rochat - 12:16
10th Luc Tweddell – 12:40
11th Adam Robinson - 13:29
12th Brian Wilmshurst - 13:29
13th Matt McHugh - 13:33
14th Petra Bachhuber - 14:30
15th Nathaniel Hamlyn – 16:28
1st Darryl Sheepway - 5:44
2nd Gaetan Pierrard - 7:43
3rd Amelie Janin - 9:13
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