Published DateLACONIA — Two-time Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby winner Claude Bellerive of Charette, Quebec, jumped out to a 90 second lead over his closest challenger Friday in the opening heat of the 84th annual Laconia derby.
Bellerive, who won the race in 2007 and 2008 and finished second to Keith Bryar Jr. in 2011, posted a time of 42 minutes and 4.15 seconds over the 13-mile course, which had been shortened by two miles due to concerns by officials that a section of the course near Paugus Bay wouldn't hold up for all three days.
In second place was Guy Girard of St. Thomas de Joliette, Quebec, with a time of 43.35 and 21-year-old Justin Fortier of Quebec City was third with a 43.70 heat.
Local favorites Brittany Colbath of Gilford was fourth with a time of 45.29.63 and defending champion Keith Bryar Jr. was sixth with a time of 46.00.10.
Bryar, who has said he was hoping for one more great race from his aging team, said that it was ''tough sledding'' for his dogs on the soft course but there were no tangles to slow them down.
''I'm not making any excuses. They did a good job,'' Bryar said of his team, which two years ago set a blistering opening day pace and fended off a strong finish by Bellerive, whose team got tangled with another on the first run but nearly made up the five minute deficit over the next two days.
Bellerive, who speaks little English, said through his daughter, Melanie, who leads in the six-dog class after the first day, that there were challenges because of the shortened course, in which teams met each other head-on on some of the loops.
''You need an experienced leader,'' said Bellerive, who said that his lead dog ''Snoop'' is the only dog still on his team from the 2007-2008 championship teams.
''The trail was nice, a little challenging,'' said Bellerive, who plans to run today's race with the same 16 dogs he raced with on Friday.
He said that his dogs are an Alaskan Husky-German Shorthaired Pointer mix and have been in four races so far this season.
Second place finisher Girard, 59, says that plans to have "Diva", his eight and a half year old Alaskan Husky, as his lead dog in Saturday's race as he attempts to close in on Bellerive.
He said that his Friday lead dog, an 18-month old Husky-Pointer mix whose sister runs right behind her, represent his team's future and that his team has hit 25 miles an hour top speed and averaged 20.5 miles an hour in a 14.4 mile race in Quebec.
''Today's speeds are unbelievable,'' says Girard, a musher for over 30 years who is also a marathon runner who has taken part in 10 of the grueling 26.2 mile races in recent years.
''I put my dogs through the same training regimen I use,'' said Girard.
He says that the Husky-Pointer mix has produced a much more manageable dog than dogs that he raced years ago.
''You can put 40 dogs out without leashes and they'll stay right with you rather than running off. They're much more loyal and if you take them inside the house they're completely at ease and your friend for life after 30 minutes inside,'' says Girard.
Third place finisher Justin Fortin said this is his first year in the open class race here and that he's going to go with 16 dogs again today.
''The course looked good and we ran good today. I'm hoping to gain a little more time each day,'' said Fortin.
Twice postponed, this year's derby got the green light after a snowstorm dropped over eight inches in the Lakes Region last weekend.
Lakes Region Sled Dog Club President and trail master Jim Lyman said that the packed base for the trail held up pretty well during the week despite some rain and temperatures in the 40s. But one section from Laconia Country Club to Paugus Bay didn't look as if it would last the entire weekend if the weather warmed or there was a lot of sunshine, so he decided to scratch that two-mile stretch.
Six-dog teams start at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday with three-dog junior class teams starting at noon both days followed by the open teams at 1 p.m.
An awards ceremony will be held Sunday at 4 p.m. at Patrick's Pub in Gilford.
The start-fiinish line is in the field off North Main Street that's directly opposite the old State School campus.