22 July 2014
In one of the most exciting men’s races at the Berg River Canoe Marathon in years, event novice Andy Birkett managed to hold off Western Cape ace Graeme Solomon to claim his maiden Berg title, while Abby Adie stormed to a convincing win in the ladies’ race.
Going into the final stage with just a 10-second lead over Solomon, Birkett had to dig deep to hold off the vastly experienced Capetonian despite hurting tremendously.
“I am just absolutely shattered. We’ve spent so much time in the boat and 240km is a long, long way, but I am so chuffed to have pulled off the win and I never expected it at all,” the Natal Canoe Club star said after claiming victory.
“It feels amazing. It is a really tough four days of racing and I was fortunate enough to find myself in a group of nice paddlers every day and we had some good, clean racing out there.”
Birkett’s intention when he arrived in Paarl was to use the race as base training for his trip to the Canoe Marathon World Championships later in the year and so, with little to no preparation in Paarl, he was happy with his efforts.
‘Training was the intention’
“Training was the intention going into the race and I put no pressure on myself because I only flew in the day of the time trial, so I am super-stoked to have claimed a victory, even though I wasn’t here to try and win,” he said.
It was a day where Solomon had to make all the moves in order to shave off the deficit to Birkett. However, following the fading of fellow title contender Simon van Gysen, Solomon was aware that Birkett just had to keep up with him.
‘Every move I made, he covered’
“Every move I made, he covered. He is a very experienced racer and he knew that I was the only one that could really beat him today, so he had one man to watch after Simon dropped off and then he just covered me like a hawk,” Solomon said.
“My plan today was to wait for Andy to make any sort of mistake and try and capitalise on that because I knew I couldn’t take 10 seconds out of him in an end sprint.”
Grandmaster in top 10
With the intention of bettering his eighth place in the 2013 Berg River Canoe Marathon, 62-year-old grandmaster Lee McGregor had to settle for another eighth place overall at the 2014 event.
Placed second in the under-23 race heading into the final stage, local hero Luke Stowman produced a fine display on the last day to not only claim the top spot in the that category but ninth place overall too.
There was also a strong performance from Build It ace Thulani Mbanjwa, who showed his pedigree as he powered his way to tenth place.
The women’s race was fairly cut-and-dried going into the final 58 kilometres from Zoutkloof to Velddrif, and there were no surprises as Abby Adie made it a double for Natal Canoe Club by cruising to a 50-minute victory over Bianca Beavitt.
Adie was elated with her win and was conscious that her tactics would remain the same throughout the race.
“These last four days have been much harder than I expected and I am just over the moon that I managed to get here in first place and with such a big lead, so I am just really happy,” Adie said afterwards.
“I just thought that on each day I would just push as hard as I can and I started just going for an overall position, and I didn’t expect to be placed so high up!”
Beavitt and Adie’s twin sister, Alex, rounded out the podium in the ladies’ race, with Beavitt building on a slender overnight gap on the last day as some ill-fortune befell Adie to take second place comfortably in the end.
- Andy Birkett 16.59.04
- Graeme Solomon 16:59.16
- Simon van Gysen 17:06.14
- Lance King 17:20.21
- Louw van Riet 17:22.57
- Jasper Mocke 17:23.07
- Edgar Boehm Jnr 17:28.13
- Lee McGregor 17:32.28
- Luke Stowman (U23) 17:36.29
- Thulani Mbanjwa 17:43.54
- Abby Adie 18:38.39
- Bianca Beavitt 19:27.37
- Alex Adie 19:51.48
- Lauren Felgate (U23) 20:47.46
- Robyn Henderson 21:01.17
- Luke Stowman 17:36.29
- Lance Kime 17:45.57
- Clinton Cook 18:18.48
- Lauren Felgate 20:47.46
- Mthobisi Cele 19:03.22
- Siyanda Gwamanda 19:25.11
- Mpilo Zondi (U16) 19:57.42
- Anya Botes 22:48.26
- Mpilo Zondi 19:57.42