By David Cerny
DESTNE, Czech Republic (Reuters) - Home favourite Roman Habasko and his team of 10 dogs won the Sedivackuv Long dogsled race in the Czech Republic on Saturday, the final day of a gruelling 300-kilometre (186 miles) haul, one of the toughest events of its kind in Europe.
Heavy snowfall greeted the more than 100 "mushers", or riders, in the 23rd annual running of the four-day race in the Czech mountains, providing the best conditions for the event in over a decade, according to the race organiser.
"I'm definitely glad because we haven't had such conditions since 2004," Pavel Kucera said.
Mushers from nine countries, including Austria, Germany, Poland, Serbia, Switzerland and the Netherlands, took part this year.
Defending champion Habasko, the most successful Czech musher, crossed the finish line with his dogs in a total time of 27 hours 42 minutes.
Starting near the village of Destne v Orlickych Horach, 167 km east of Prague, along the Polish border, racers in the longer event completed the journey in five stages over four days, including a night run.
Most mushers, though, competed on a shorter 200 km course over four stages.
Mountain services reported at least 120 cm of snow along the route before the race, according to CTK news agency, much more than in recent years.
Kucera and other Czech mushers started the race in the 1990s. It is named in honour of a Siberian Husky who belonged to Kucera but got loose on the eve of the inaugural race and was shot in a nearby village.
The race through forests blanketed with snow included a combined total of 9,000 metres of climbing. Fresh snowfall and freezing temperatures during the week added to the challenge.
Kucera compared trudging through dry snow like going through sand. "It is a real difficult race and not everyone can make it," he said, adding that half of the mushers had quit halfway through.
The victor, though, should not expect riches from the mostly friendly race.
"(The winner) gets a certificate and is proud that he made it," Kucera said, with a smile. "Like it has been said... it is not possible to win here, it is only possible to lose."
(Reporting by David Cerny; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Hugh Lawson)