Welch gets into gear for the final river run

February 09, 2018

Leo Welch and the crew from The Mistress. Photo by Luke Hemer.

IT’S normal to ask this time of year.

Is this it for Leo Welch?

According to the man himself — ‘‘it’s time’’.

‘‘I made the decision six months ago that this will be my last race,’’ Welch said.

For nearly 40 years, he’s been a constant in the ski racing sport.

In 1989 and 1990, he was onboard overall winner Island Cooler.

Now it’s Mistress, an apt name for a boat that has taken so much of his life.

Last year, Mistress was quickest through the Bakers Blitz, putting the team in the box seat for going back to back following its 2016 win. But it wasn’t to be.

‘‘It was really a tough race for us last year,’’ Welch said.

‘‘We had a mechanical issue with our steering that really haunted us. We thought we had it fixed after Bakers Blitz, but we hadn’t.

‘‘That is really no excuse. We had a new crew on board and conditions really weren’t in our favour. We had to make a judgement on how best to get our skiers home and, in the end, we didn’t get that judgement right.’’

At the completion of their race, Mistress looked to be in a good position. It was, however, some incredible work by Merc Force that saw the result go the other way.

‘‘I thought we had probably done enough when we got to the end of the race to get the win, but in the end Merc Force had an incredible run. It was just one of those things,’’ Welch said.

‘‘We don’t regret how we did it. At the end of the day, it is our priority to get all of our skiers home safely, that’s what really matters in that race. It’s a bit of a juggling act to get it all done and we think we made the right call in how we went about it.’’

Welch said this year, all possible work had been made to put Mistress back on top.

‘‘We’ve done all of the testing we had to do, we made sure she is mechanically sound,’’ Welch said.

‘‘We are in it to win it. We never go into a race with any goal other than winning the race.

‘‘Our expectation is that if everyone in our team performs to the level that we know and expect that they can, then we are a real shot at winning the race.

‘‘That said, we know it’s not all up to how we go in terms of the event. There are a number of things that are out of your hands in the race. You just have to hope that everything goes the way that you want it to so that you can really feel confident and get the results that you want.’’

But for Welch, the extra motivation is in going out on top.

It seems the speculation about what Welch will do at the end is always rampant at this time of the season.

But this time, he is very clear about what he has planned.

‘‘This will be my last race, after that I will be selling the boat on to a new owner,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s sad in one way, but I know it’s the right call to make.’’

Welch has a number of other interests, many of which involve motorsports.

So it may not come as a surprise when he discusses what he will miss the most about racing.

‘‘The adrenaline. It’s a full on, addictive adrenaline rush when you are racing boats at this level. You have to be incredibly sharp and on your toes,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m also going to miss the preparation. I love working on the boat with the team to get ready to race. I won’t miss the financial aspect I must admit, it’s very expensive to run one of these boats. But I’ll miss the camaraderie. You become so close to your teammates, you spend a lot of time together on the road. That’s what I’ll miss.’’

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