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GCI Open North American 2006
( Datum: März 21st, 2006 um 5:16:08pm)
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The Ellis Express just keeps on rolling.

Trailing by one minute, 18.2 seconds heading into Sunday's grueling 27.7-mile final heat of the GCI Open North American Championship Sled Dog Race, Willow's Egil Ellis made up that time and then some as he charged from behind to continue his domination of the event by winning for the seventh time in eight years.

With Tina and Brownie leading the way, Ellis slowly gobbled up the time he needed to catch Buddy Streeper of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, who led for the first two days, and then put the hammer down over the last five or six miles to win the race going away.

The team of Ed Wood of Chugiak crests a hill on its way to the finish line at the Open North American mushing championship in Fairbanks. Photo by JOHN HAGEN / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner"We gambled a little bit today and it paid off," Ellis said of the move to put Brownie in lead for the first time during a major championship race.

Ellis had run Bizzy beside Tina on the first two days of the race, but Ellis felt he needed to make a change if he wanted to have a chance to catch the Canadian Express.

"We had a good clean run, and I could just feel the team speed up the last three or four miles," Ellis said. "It was just beautiful out there, and I was really proud of the way the team performed today."

Ellis completed Sunday's 27.7-mile heat in 88 minutes and 56 seconds, just over three minutes ahead of Streeper, who carried a dog in the sled's basket for about the last 18 miles of the run.

Ellis completed the race that included 20-mile heats on Friday and Saturday in 208 minutes and 42.8 seconds to finish almost two minutes ahead of Streeper.

Streeper finished Sunday's run in 91:57.6 and had a total elapsed time of 210:37.2.

"We hit a hole and I lost sight of him, and when he came back up I knew we had to carry him," Streeper said of the dog named Ray shortly after finishing his run on a warm and cloudy afternoon as the temperature rose into the 20s. "The vet just checked him out, and it looks like he's going to be fine."

The irony of having Ray go down is that the 5-year-old dog is the brother of Peavey, one of Ellis' main leaders who was injured earlier in the season and did not race in this year's Open North American.

"Having to carry a dog that far when you've gone out in the reverse order is pretty tough," Streeper added. "The trail is more chewed up because everyone has been on it already, and then when you get out on the extension you really wind around a lot and that takes a lot of energy out of the team."

Ellis had some anxious moments of his own early in the race when one of his swing dogs had problems getting started.

"She threw up twice on the river (right after coming off Second Avenue) and then had some diarrhea, and I thought I was going to have to load her in the basket," Ellis said. "She slowly started to come around and after about seven or eight miles, she was all the way back to being herself."

Ellis left the starting line two minutes ahead of Streeper and really wasn't sure if he had won the race until several minutes after everyone had finished and the final times were made official.

Willow's Egil Ellis celebrates winning the Open North American mushing title in Fairbanks on Sunday. Photo by JOHN HAGEN / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner"I knew it could happen, but this is too good to be true," Ellis said.

Many of Ellis' Open North American wins have been less than dramatic as he has dominated many of those events from start to finish, but he said this year's close race was good for the sport.

"It adds to the excitement to have more and more teams be in the running each year," Ellis said. "I'm really glad to see that it's getting competitive up at the top of the standings."

With the win, Ellis moved into sole possession of second place on the all-time win list just one shy of the legendary George Attla, who had eight Open North American titles to his credit during his illustrious career. His seventh win broke a second place tie with another mushing legend, Dr. Roland Lombard.

Willow's Bill Kornmuller also had a great run on Sunday to finish in third place. His day time was 93:08.2, and his overall time was 221:41.7.

"I had a fresh team today," Kornmuller said. "After we finished yesterday (Saturday) I thought maybe we didn't go hard enough, but they paid me back today.

"We passed so many teams on the slough that I thought maybe they would slow down a bit, but they pulled right on through," he said.

Musher's Day 1 through 3 totals and cumulative time

1. Egil Ellis, 59:25.5, 60:21.3, 88:56.0, 208:42.8

2. Buddy Streeper, 58:51.3, 59:41.3, 91:57.6, 210:30.2

3. Bill Kurnmuller, 62:50.3, 64:48.7, 93:08.2, 220:47.2

4. Eddy Streeper, 59:13.3, 61:07.5, 101:20.9, 221:41.7

5. Neal Johnson, 62:10.9, 64:09.2, 95:44.1, 222:04.2


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