GRAYLING — When the 66th annual Au Sable River Canoe Marathon kicks off Saturday night at 9 with the traditional LeMans-style sprint to the waters of the Old Au Sable Canoe Livery, five-time defending champions Andrew Triebold and Steve LaJoie will be part of the 77-team field.
For several weeks leading up to the grueling, two-day, 120-mile race that winds along the twisting Au Sable River from Grayling to Oscoda, there was some question as to whether the pair would be part of this year’s race.
The suspense mercifully ended Monday, the final day of registration, when Triebold, 37, of Grayling and LaJoie, 37, of Mirabel, Quebec, officially signed their names on the dotted line.
“They showed up and registered and that automatically changed the whole dynamic of the race,” said race spokesman Phil Weiler on Wednesday. “Betting against Andy and Steve is like betting against (Michael) Jordan or LeBron James. Until somebody beats them, they’re still the team to beat.”
In recent years, Triebold and LaJoie have been in a class by themselves in the Au Sable marathon. They have outpaced the competition by an average of 15 minutes while winning five times in a row. The pair also won in 2004, giving them six Au Sable titles altogether.
Triebold and LaJoie appear to be in top form as they prepare to defend their title again. On Memorial Day, they recaptured the 70-mile General Clinton Regatta on the Susquehanna River in New York in the first leg of the so-called Triple Crown of Canoe Racing, beating the field there by more than 12 minutes. They also finished faster than anyone in Sunday’s Spike’s Challenge on the Au Sable, covering the 26-mile distance between the race’s starting point in Grayling to the McMaster Bridge near Mio in an economical time of 2 hours, 38 minutes, 11 seconds.