Kayak and canoe racers to be greeted Sunday

Tour de la Riviere Rouge begins Saturday in Bossier City

By Raymond L. Daye

     Organizers were hoping for a lot of excitement in the first annual “410 De Louisiane” canoe and kayak race, which began in Bossier City Saturday morning.  The first racers will probably enter Avoyelles between 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. Sunday.
     “You might say the race is going to start with a bang,” race organizer Ray Pellerin said with a laugh. “The O.K. Allen Bridge in Alexandria will be blown up at 8 a.m. Saturday and the race will start in Bossier City at 9 a.m.”
     The demolition of the bridge will probably force racers to exit the river and walk along the bank until they get past the debris zone, Pellerin said. The contractor had indicated it would try to clear a path for the small boats, but safety concerns may require the “walk around” option.
     That will delay the paddlers’ arrival in Avoyelles.
     The Avoyelles Police Jury and Avoyelles Commission on Tourism are sponsoring a rest stop and welcome center for racers at the Ben Routh  Recreation Area.
      Pellerin said there are 16 boats officially entered in the race for the start in Bossier City. However, recreational paddlers will be allowed to start the race with the racers “to paddle alongside them for one or two miles to get a feel for what it is like to be in a river race,” Pellerin said.
      He said several teams had indicated they would be taking a rest break in Avoyelles, either at Brouillette boat launch or Ben Routh Recreation Area. Local kayakers and canoeists are also free to paddle along with the racers as they travel Big Red through Avoyelles.
      “We would welcome that,” Pellerin said. “It would be a fun thing for people to do.”
      He cautioned that there will only be one or two boats at a time, and perhaps an hour or two between boats due to the nature of the long-distance river race.
      “Some teams will be paddling straight through, paddling in shifts,” he said. “Others will take periodic rest breaks.”
 
Interest growing
      Bill and Carol Jupp, owners of Lazy Rabbit Canoe & Kayak Rentals in Marksville, said interest in canoes and kayaks as recreation and as a sport is increasing. They hope the Riviere Rouge race becomes an annual event.
      “It will be a big benefit to central Louisiana,” Bill Jupp said.
      Red River is good for weekend kayakers because there is now very little flow due to the locks and dams that have tamed the once dangerous river, he said. This weekend, most of their boats may be on the river due to a Boy Scout event.
      The “Louisiane” is actually three races in one. 
      The first leg is the new Tour de la Riviere Rouge, a 275-mile “adventure race” down Red River from Shreveport/Bossier City to the Atchafalaya, down to Krotz Springs. The racers will then transport their boats to  Bayou Courtableu to continue the race down to Port Barre. To qualify as completing the  race, a boat has to finish the entire course by 6 p.m. next Thursday.
     The second leg of the journey is the Tour du Teche, now in its sixth year, which is a three-day, 135-mile race. It will begin next Friday morning in Port Barre and end Sunday in Berwick. There are about 80 boats in that race, so the number will swell to almost 100 when the Riviere Rouge racers arrive, Pellerin said.
     The first stage on Friday is 49 miles from Port Barre to St. Martinville. The second on Saturday is 59 miles from St. Martinville to Franklin. The final stage is 27 miles from Franklin to Berwick.
     Avoyelles Police Jury President Charles Jones will present plaques for the first, second and third boat through Avoyelles during closing events in Berwick on Oct. 4.
 
Triple Crown
    Racers can choose to register for just one of the two shorter races or for the entire 410-mile marathon.
    The three races will become the “Triple Crown” of Louisiana kayak/canoe racing.
    Racers can compete for the Triple Crown by submitting their best time in each race over a three-year period, with the overall top time in each racing classification being able to hold the title for the next three years.
    A racer can compete in both the Riviere Rouge and Teche races in one year, but cannot use those combined times for the Louisiane that year. The Louisiane time must be separate.
    A racer who completes the three races in two years can try for a better time in the third year -- either in the Louisiane or in one or both of the shorter races. 
    The first Triple Crown will be awarded in 2017.
    “This is one of the toughest and longest races in the country,” Pellerin said. “We expect this to be an economic engine for the state and for the Acadiana area.”
    Pellerin said he has already received many calls from kayak and canoe enthusiasts from across the country saying they are making plans to compete in next year’s race.
    Now that the race is on the national schedule of events, Pellerin said it could attract 200-300 racers.
    For those who want to keep track of the racers, each boat has a tracking device that updates their location every 5-10 minutes and can be followed online at trackleaders.com, Pellerin said.
 
 

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