Anny Malo had built up a roughly 14-minute lead heading into the final stage of the Pedigree Stage Stop Race on Saturday, and yet she did not breathe a sigh of relief until she hit the finish line.
It was then — with the knowledge that she had at least beaten Lina Streeper, who trailed her in the cumulative standings — that she could relax. The pressure she had put on herself had lifted, and she could bask in a third straight Stage Stop championship as her season of sled dog racing only gets started.
“Even if I was 14 minutes ahead, you never know what can happen on the trail,” Malo said. “So still, you have pressure and you have to focus all the way through the course. So, yeah it’s lots of relief.”
Erick Laforce, a Quebec musher just like Malo, won the Teton County stage — which moved from Lower Slide Lake this year to the Hatchet Resort — in 1 hour, 55 minutes and 46 seconds. Malo was second in 1:56:36, and Streeper finished third in 2:00:36. Bondurant musher Alix Crittenden wrapped up her week on the trails in sixth at 2:04:34.
In reality, it would have taken a disaster for Malo not to complete the three-peat. Heading into Saturday she had won four of the six stages, and the two she didn’t win, she only missed out on first place by roughly 30 seconds. In each of her victories she added distance between herself and former two-time champion Streeper to hold that 14-minute lead heading into the final day.
With all seven stages added together, Malo claimed victory with a total time of 14:42:34. Streeper was closest, finishing second overall in 15:01:23. Crittenden was sixth overall in 16:03:05.
For Crittenden, sixth place was nothing to bow her head about. Though she was coming off back-to-back third place finishes, the top third of the Stage Stop this year was an absolute trench battle through each stage. With all 24 slots filled again for this year’s event, the best of the best were back and challenging near the top of the race all week.
“Lots of awesome competition here always, lots of really great teams,” she said Saturday. “I’m not hanging my head about sixth place even a little bit. I was kind of hoping for better. … It took us a little while to get into racing, but once we got past that hump [the dogs] were kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, this is fun, we’re racing.’ I think I just need to figure out how to make them peak at the right time.”
Malo earned $10,000 alone for her first-place finish overall, and another $5,650 in daily payout money for her first and second place finishes at each stage. She will take home much more than that, however, as further purses will be awarded through the musher support program. After last year’s victory, Malo pocketed nearly $28,000 in award money.
Read more about this year’s Stage Stop Race in Wednesday’s edition of the Jackson Hole News&Guide.