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Third IronLine ‘smoothest yet’

Kris Sampson, of South River, Ontario and his team roared over the trail at the IronLine Sled Dog Race on Jan. 31. In its first appearance at the event, Sampson’s team won the 10-dog pro class division.
IRON RIVER— Any endeavor that requires ample planning, tight organization and crisp execution will likely have its growing pains, especially in its early stages.
    It seems, however, that after its third installment, the IronLine Sled Dog Race has worked its way through that process quite well.
    The third IronLine was held Jan. 30-31, and both race organizers and competitors thought things went off very well.
    “I can honestly say that through the hard work of so many people in this community and these awesome mushers and volunteers, we had the smoothest IronLine that I’ve seen,” said race organizer Josh Brindle just prior to the event’s awards banquet. “Everybody’s having more fun because people have learned their roles.”
    “It’s an amazing race (with) great people who are very passionate about what they’re doing,” said Kris Sampson of South River, Ontario, who won the 10-dog pro class race. “It’s a great trail, well organized and there’s great competition. It’s just an all-around great event, and I’ll definitely be back.”
    This year, the festivities included an exhibition IronLine FatBike race on Saturday. Brindle said the inaugural bike race had 30 riders participate and was received well, though it is in its early developmental stages.
    Brindle, who took to his bike himself and rode the 40K trail, said he expects the bike race will return next year, with some likely changes.
    “We’re probably going to go back to the drawing board and do some major changes, but that’s why we did an exhibition here. We are looking at going to a two-stage (race) like we do with the sled dogs. And we might go for a shorter main event if we use a lot of the same trail.”
    The sled dog races still form the core of the IronLine, and 28 mushing teams competed and finished one of the three races, which feature 4-dog teams, 6-dog teams or 10-dog teams.
    Sampson won the 10-dog race -- a two-leg, two-day event -- in his first appearance at the IronLine. He finished in an overall time of 6 hours, 13 minutes, 22 seconds, more than five minutes ahead of runner-up Frank Holmberg, who recorded a time of 6:18.43.
    “We started out slow (in Saturday’s leg) and tried to build the team into a rhythm,” said Sampson, who has been sledding for 10 years and racing for seven. “They found that rhythm and they held it.”
    Last year’s champion Joann Fortier finished third in 6:24.47.
    Another first-time IronLine competitor took first in the 6-dog race. Martha Schouweiler of Irma, Wis., finished in 3:57.54, ahead of Lynn Witte (3:58.50) and Mike Betz (4:11.51).
    Schouweiler said her team was comprised of four rookie yearlings and two veterans. She said she especially liked the trail and the fact that the event has a viewing post at George Young Recreation Complex for spectators.
    “I liked going through and seeing the old buildings and the towns as well as the woods,” said Schouweiler, who has been racing for 11 years and who has a kennel with her husband with 12 dogs in training. “Another big positive was the location so the spectators could come. Normally, it’s a horrible spectator sport, so (the organizers) have really tried to dial that in so that’s good.”
    Jesse Quayle of Champion repeated as winner of the 4-dog race. Quayle’s team finished in 0:59.38, in front of Dylan Grentz (1:02.56) and Teri Grout (1:05.33).
    Quayle said the IronLine is a favorite.
    “It’s probably one of the best races I’ve ever ran because of the trail,” said Quayle, who has been racing for three years. “And the people are so nice. I’ll definitely come back.”
    The exhibition fat bike race was won by Evan Simula of Marquette (no times were announced). Simula, who has been fat bike racing for four years, said he liked the course, though the temperatures in the high teens made the course a bit soft.
    “We’re not racing on dirt, so sometimes you get a fast (trail) and sometimes you get a slow one. But I think the (race) went well. I think one thing to note was the start-finish area with the packed snow gate. That looked really cool with the coffee shop and the tent.
    “A lot of races, you don’t have something like that.”
    The weekend’s festivities concluded with an awards banquet at George Young’s.