At Quebec City carnival, the making of an ice canoe champion

A new team was able to claim victory at the annual Carnaval de Quebec ice canoe competition, a gruelling test involving paddling across the ice St-Lawrence and climbing over ice floes.

Team takes the Carnaval title after defeating long-time champions

Martin Fleury knew the race would be difficult.

His team, Capitale Groupe Financier, was one of 10 in the men's competition that made its way across the icy Saint-Lawrence, from the Quebec City shore to Lévis, back and forth three times.

Ice canoeing doesn't just involve paddiling.

Participants are often required to jump out of their boats and haul them across the floating chunks of ice as they swirl across the river.

It is an annual tradition at the Carnaval de Quebec — a two-week festival which begins at the end of January.

Martin Fleury's team, La Capitale Groupe Financier, finally won gold in Quebec City's 2017 winter carnival ice canoe race after competing for 15 years. 'After that, we forgot all the pain,’ he said. (Radio-Canada)
Some years the Saint-Lawrence river is only open water, forcing racers to use sheer force to paddle across as fast as they can.

But this year, there were many tiny ice floes sweeping along the partially frozen river, forcing the racers to make quick, tactical decisions.

"We had many, many, many different small turns to do, and so every choice we made made a difference," Fleury said.

After 15 years of trying to win the race, his team's experience paid off.

'We forgot all the pain'

Fleury's five-man team was in third place for the first two-and-a-half times stretches across the river.

The two other teams ahead of Fleury's team were about 100 meters ahead and clearly visible.

But on the last leg of the third and final turn, Fleury's team made a split-second choice to stick with the water instead of dragging the boat across another ice floe.

Overall, 58 teams participated in the Quebec City Carnaval's 2017 ice canoe race. Martin Fleury's team competed in the men's elite division. (Radio-Canada)
They caught up to the front-runners by 20 meters and were within striking distance.

"We were chasing slowly and we made different choice than they did," says Fleury.

"After that, we forgot all the pain." 

In the final few meters, he said they were afraid to be caught. They crossed the finish line first.

Conquering a dynasty

Fleury's team seized the Carnaval trophy that had eluded them for years.

They beat Jean Anderson's Château Frontenac-Le Soleil team — a dynasty that has captured the Carnaval title 24 times since 1988.

Eleven teams competed in the women's elite division during the 2017 ice canoe race at Quebec City's Carnaval. (Radio-Canada)
Fleury himself has been chasing this victory for 15 years when he first competed in the recreation category.

They started competing in the men's elite division a year later. 

He said the team has had a realistic shot at winning for the past seven or eight years.

Though they had won all the other races in the ice canoe circuit around the province, a Carnaval win always escaped them.

Fleury is one of the three of the original members that have finally won after the long wait.

The teammates will soon have 13 children between them, and can only train in the late evenings and on weekends.

Fleury said this hard-won victory will be one to savour.

"I don't think we can really battle for first place for years and years again," he said. 

"We're just enjoying this one."

with files from Quebec AM