Canoes on the Susquehanna River are a familiar sight in Bainbridge on Memorial Day. For the top two boats in Monday’s marquee race, the C-2 Pro, the results were also familiar.
Steve Lajoie won his 11th General Clinton Canoe Regatta race, and 10th C-2 title, teaming up with Jimmy Pellerin to finish in 7:15:23. Local competitors Benedict Schlimmer and Trevor LeFever took second, recording another high finish that saw Lajoie deny the duo top honors.
“I knew that when I was going to paddle with Steve, I knew it was my first time that I had a chance to win,” Pellerin said after winning for the first time in nine entries. “He is the best. When you have a chance to paddle with this guy, you already have a better chance to win.”
“We wanted to win, and I thought we could, but then you need a good day and to be a little lucky to pull it out,” Lajoie said. “We are very happy, obviously.”
The 43-year-old Lajoie, who has won the C-2 in 10 of the last 12 regattas, and the C-1 title in 2014 when he did not compete in the C-2, needed all of that experience to best the Schlimmer and LeFever duo, which overcame a rough start to the race. Lajoie and Pellerin built an early lead after Schlimmer and LeFever failed to find their stroke early and Schlimmer lost a shoe during a portage.
The local team did manage to erase the gap, but could not hold on as Lajoie and Pellerin again pulled away late in the 70-mile race from Cooperstown to Bainbridge. LeFever and Schlimmer finished in 7:17:26, 2:03 behind Lajoie and Pellerin.
“Steve’s been doing this forever. He just has such an abundance of knowledge that we are still learning. He always seems to go at the right time,” LeFever, an Oneonta resident, said .
For Schlimmer and LeFever, the second-place finish marks the fourth consecutive year finishing in the top three and the second time in four years taking second.
“I would never say it’s a disappointment because being on the podium with those world-class athletes, it’s an achievement just to be there,” Camillus resident Schlimmer, 30, said. “Of course it’s our goal to win, but we are more than happy with second place.”
Lajoie, of Mirabel, Quebec said he has not tired of winning the event. He and Pellerin will share the $3,000 purse, $1,000 for winning the class and $2,000 for the fastest overall time, but he emphasized that he returned to the race for a different reason.
“I just really like paddling. I’ll probably do it all my life even if I’m not racing,” Lajoie said. “We waited for our chance and took it when we saw it. We were really patient until Oneonta then we got going.”
For all of his success, Lajoie was not the biggest name in the field on Monday. Serge Corbin, a 28-time winner at the event, took fourth with Normand Mainguy in 7:19.32. The 62-year old Corbin took second a year ago with Guillaume Blais of St. Boniface, Quebec; this year, Blais bested Corbin, taking third with Samuel Frigon of St-Étienne Des Grès, Quebec in 7:17.27, one second behind Schlimmer and LeFever.
The fourth-place finish means that Corbin has failed to win in consecutive years for the first time after winning 28 of his first 29 entries.
“It’s all the kids. We did what we had to do when we were younger. Maybe when they are 60 they wont be paddling anymore,” Corbin joked. “It’s fun. We like to come maybe give some advice to the kids.”
Corbin did not confirm that he would return to the regatta in 2020.
In the C-1 Pro category, 59-year-old Rod McLain of Stockton Springs, Maine took first place in a race that his doctor tried to talk him out of starting.
“I told my cardiologist I was doing this race, and his response was ‘no, you shouldn’t,’” McLain said. “If you’re gonna be a paddler, you gotta do this race. You gotta come here and pay your dues.”
A marathon paddler in his youth, McLain’s canoeing story took a turn toward sprint racing early on. He appeared at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics for Team USA, finishing as high as fifth in the C-2 1,000 meters during the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
His daughter’s interest brought him back to marathon racing, but Monday he used his sprint background to take an early lead. His time of 8:02:14 was good for first place by more than nine minutes.
“There were eight guys that could win this race. If we did this race again tomorrow, I wouldn’t be surprised if I got eighth because there are a lot of good paddlers here,” McLain said. “For me, the Olympic sprint heritage that I come from, going in a straight line off the lake as fast as you can, that was right in my wheelhouse.”
Francis Trudel of Shawinigan, Quebec took second in 8:11:50, and Luc Mercier of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec was third in 8:11:56.
Oneonta’s Phoebe Reese was the lone female competitor in the C-1 Pro race, taking 11th with a time of 8:37:20.
“This is my first 70 in C-1 and it worked out better than I could have hoped,” Reese said. “I raced with my daughters on Friday in the generation gap (race) so it means a lot to me to be out there and hopefully be a good role model for them and other girls that may want to try paddling.”
Here’s a roundup of other notable finishes from Monday’s races:
Edith MacHattie of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Rebecca Davis of Homer, Michigan made up the first women’s team to finish the C-2 pro race. They finished in 7:44:50 to take 17th out of 41 teams.
Father-son duo Lucas and Bill Walley came away winners for the third consecutive year, winning the open stock aluminum endurance for the second straight year with a time of 8:57:23. The team won the stock aluminum two generation gap in 2017.
Michael Himes of Otego and Wayne Himes of Delanson won the men’s NYMCRA stock endurance race in 8:22:43.
Rob Birdsall of Unadilla won the open under-50 C1 70-mile race, clocking a time of 8:39:56.
Franklin residents Shauna Murphy and Christopher Murphy (team name: The Murphy’s) took first place in the mixed/women’s NYMCRA stock endurance race with a time of 8:55:39.
Rik Vandermeulen of Unadilla led local competitors in the men’s recreation endurance race, teaming up with Alex Bonnar of Burlington, Massachusetts to finish in 9:40:40. Justin McMillan (Unadilla) and Alex Hoskins (Sidney) took second as the first all-local boat, crossing in 10:40:12.
Dale Beckwith and Jeff Bagley, both of Sidney, took second in the C-4 touring open endurance race with a time of 9:00:01.
An all-local boat featuring three regatta hall of fame members took second in the C-4 stock endurance race. Jeff Shultis, Bob Wisse and Bob Zaveral joined Larry Harrison to finish in 7:41:07. Wisse, has been involved with the race in some capacity for each of the last 40 years and was inducted into the hall of fame this year, said afterward his family “just plain doesn’t know anything different do to on Memorial Day.”