18 July 2011
Hank McGregor romped to a record eighth victory in South Africa’s Berg River Canoe Marathon on the weekend. Michele Eray dominated the women’s event to win her maiden title in the tough four-day race from Paarl to Velddrif in the Western Cape.
“I am super stoked,” said McGregor. “I have raced all over the world and there is no doubt at all that this is the toughest race on the planet.”
“To win against the field of legends that has been assembled this year is a real privilege for me,” he added. “It’s right up there with the best of my wins.”
McGregor started the 62 kilometre final stage from Zoutkloof to the coastal resort of Port Owen in Velddrif with a 10-minute lead and dominated a four-boat bunch that finished together to wrap up the victory.
The victory was particularly sweet for McGregor because, after asserting his authority on each of the first three stages, he elected to race away on his own to truly stamp his authority on the race when he would have been fully justified to paddle in a bunch and preserve his lead.
“I guess I was out to prove a point by pushing it at the front,” said McGregor. “It wasn’t always like that. On the final stage I found myself 60 metres behind the guys, and they were pushing the pace, and I had to grind back onto the bunch.”
Stellenbosch University student Pierre-Andre Rabie wrapped up the race of his canoeing career with a well-deserved second, and heaped praise on the eight-time champion.
‘He won it in style’
“Hank didn’t just win it, he won it in style,” said Rabie, whose flawless race was a tribute to his determined training and diligent work scouting the river.
Lance King finished the four-day race on a high, mixing it up at the front bunch to wrap up third place, which helped erase memories of a nightmarish finish on day two when a mistake in the trees above Misverstand Dam saw his separated from his kayak and paddle, dropping him from second to a distant sixth.
“It was about time I had some good karma after the dramas of the first two days,” said a relieved King, who had finished second in the two previous editions of the race. “This was the toughest Berg I have ever been involved in,” he added.
Raised the bar
Plettenberg Bay-based Olympian Michele Eray raised the bar of female Berg racing with a rampant 20-minute victory over two-time defending champion Robyn Kime.
On each of the stages she started the day alongside Kime and lightning fast sprinter Jen Hodson before gradually dropping her adversaries and then, not unlike McGregor, racing away alone.
“I was out to see how far up the field [I could finish] against the men’s field that had the benefit of racing together in groups with paddlers of similar ability,” said Eray.
“The changes to the women’s rules are a huge step in the right direction, but maybe there are ways we can tweak the race structure to get the women more involved with the guys who paddle as fast as we do.”
“The win is massive for me,” she continued. “I had set my heart on winning this race, and to do it in the 50th anniversary is really special. It was brilliant racing against such a strong women’s field, as well.”
“Mich (Eray) was brilliant throughout the whole race,” said Kime.
Jen Hodson eventually finished well off the pace in third with a gutsy performance. She had entered the race only two weeks earlier after suddenly retiring from sprinting. “I played with the big girls and they beat me up!” she said.
The team race was thrown wide open on the final stage with the sudden withdrawal of Hank McGregor’s team mate Marc Holtzhausen. The Durban stalwart, who paddled a heroic third stage, could not continue due to severe pain from the blisters on both hands.
With three team members counting towards the lucrative team prize, the pressure fell on Mynhardt Marais, who was well off the front bunch’s pace.
He finished 16th overall but, when combined with McGregor and Rabie’s podium finishes, it was just enough to get his team home against the potent Trueb Kitchens team and the Gauteng Veterans.
The race’s 50th anniversary was celebrated by a record field of over 350 paddlers, and enjoyed four unseasonably warm clear days on a medium level river.
In amongst the finishers were a number of paddlers from the inaugural race in 1962, including former champions Willem van Riet and Jannie Malherbe.
The boat that won that inaugural race, dubbed “Kelkiewyn” was also successfully paddled to the finish by Lionel “Lonkie” Ekermans.
- Hank McGregor 16:59.25
- Pierre Andre Rabie 17:09.40
- Lance King 17:13.24
- Heinrich Schloms 17:19.29
- Jacques Theron 17:19.29
- Graeme Solomon 17:22.12
- Robbie Herreveld 17:26.10
- Edgar Boehm Jnr 17:40.47
- Tom Schilperoort 17:46.59
- Mike Stewart 17:51.36
- Donnie Malherbe 18:01.15
- Nick Longley 18:06.04
- Paul Marais 18:07.51
- Graham Monteith 18:13.32
- Ian Trautmann 18:20.02
- Mynhardt Marais 18:23.12
- Andrew Birkett 18:25.28
- Gert van Deventer 18:26.06
- Chris de Waal 18:28.38
- Ernst van Riet 18:28.43
- Michele Eray 19:06.02
- Robyn Kime 19:26.00
- Jen Hodson 20:01.28
- Hillary Pitchford 20:22.54
- Jean Wilson 20:40.45
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