Racing on the cheating edge

Michael
Michael Johansen
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All is not well in the land of Cain. As anyone who follows the Cain's Quest endurance race already knows, things were going quite well in the 2,000-kilometre dash across Labrador and back again until after the front-running teams passed through Checkpoint 11 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Racers had been encountering many difficulties along the way, like high snow drifts on the interior lakes that were packed as hard as ice and the ice on the ocean around Postville that was as sharp as knives.

All is not well in the land of Cain. As anyone who follows the Cain's Quest endurance race already knows, things were going quite well in the 2,000-kilometre dash across Labrador and back again until after the front-running teams passed through Checkpoint 11 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Racers had been encountering many difficulties along the way, like high snow drifts on the interior lakes that were packed as hard as ice and the ice on the ocean around Postville that was as sharp as knives.

The conditions slowed them down considerably and the jarring bumps broke parts on their machines, delaying several teams for hours while they made repairs.

However, the racers carried on when they could and no one complained, since they consider such troubles a necessary part of Cain's Quest - the pitting of two racers and two machines against Labrador itself. The competition against other racers is supposed to be secondary.

Most of the racers were ready to take on natural obstacles, but what they did not consider a fair part of the race was the strategic blocking of a trail through the narrow Peter's River valley, the route that had been suggested by the organizers.

In the few hours before the lead team left Happy Valley-Goose Bay after a mandatory eight-hour rest stop, one person or more used chainsaws to drop more than 50 large trees across a trail that had been packed down earlier by a support crew.

By the time five teams were caught up by the obstruction it had become clear to all that there was no easy way around. The 10 racers decided to turn back and request that the race be put on hold. The organizers agreed.

No one was happy at Checkpoint 11 after that. No one was ready to make public accusations about who cut the trees down, but lots of people had ideas about motives.

One man thought it may have been done by anti-snowmobilers - a terrorist group just out to cause trouble for Cain's Quest.

However, more of the racers and support crews seemed sure the guilty parties came from their own ranks. One theory had it that it was a simple act of cheating, that the trees were felled to do exactly what they did: allow slower teams to catch up to the front-runners. If that's the case the plan ultimately failed unless (as according to one variation on the theory) the 24-hour hold was anticipated. If that's true, the plan may have worked perfectly, since the delay helped those who needed to rest and effectively penalized those who did not.

Another theory states that it wasn't an act of cheating, but rather a retaliation against what many consider to be an unfair (albeit legal) practice: a team having its support crew open up the trail ahead. That would suggest the trees were more of a message than anything else.

It's this possibility that could lead to more specific accusations. It widens a rift that has always existed between the two kinds of racers who participate in Cain's Quest: those who use wide tracks on their snowmobiles and those who use narrow ones.

The two factions have clashed verbally in the past, but the dispute has never before degenerated into any kind of violence.

The wide-trackers say their preference should be made mandatory, since if no one has narrow tracks everybody could break trails. Those who use narrow tracks generally agree that prepared trails change the conditions of the race, but they argue that, even if they're outlawed, enforcement would be impossible.

Organizers already have a heavy task ahead of them to prepare for Cain's Quest 2010, but this year's act of destruction in the woods has, no doubt, increased their burden. Since it started only four years ago the Quest has been a huge and growing success and is now attracting international attention. It would be a shame if that was tarnished because of an escalating squabble between racers who should be able to settle their differences without resorting to sabotage.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador

Geographic location: Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Postville

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  • CG
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Excellent article! 2 points- There was no violence associated with incident.

    There was no cheating here. Support crews, though contraversial, are not against the rules. The committee has struggled with this from the first day and its not as easy to fix as it seems.

    Comments and opinions are more than welcome unfounded accusations and insults are NOT especially regarding the volunteers They deserve better!

    Will you Challenge the Legend!

    Congratulations to all racers!

  • CG
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Excellent article! 2 points- There was no violence associated with incident.

    There was no cheating here. Support crews, though contraversial, are not against the rules. The committee has struggled with this from the first day and its not as easy to fix as it seems.

    Comments and opinions are more than welcome unfounded accusations and insults are NOT especially regarding the volunteers They deserve better!

    Will you Challenge the Legend!

    Congratulations to all racers!