23 May 2013
Nine-time winner Hank McGregor has confirmed that he won’t be on the starting line in Paarl to defend his Berg River Canoe Marathon title this year because of a clash of dates with the new Surfski World Championships.
The South African paddler has set his sights on winning the first-ever Surfski World Championships, held under the auspices of the International Canoe federation (ICF), in Vila de Conde in Portugal from 12 to 14 July. Unfortunately, it overlaps with the 52nd running of the Berg River Canoe Marathon.
“It was a really tough choice because I am passionate about the Berg,” said McGregor. “I have always loved my surfski racing and the chance to race in the first world champs was just too good to miss.”
Date change offered
Organisers even offered to juggle dates of the event to try and accommodate McGregor and a handful of other potential contenders who were eyeing the inaugural surfski world crown.
“I was really flattered to be approached about actually moving the dates,” said McGregor. “But I thought it wouldn’t be right, particularly as I will representing my country in Portugal, and would have had to race back just in time to make the Berg time trial, which would have been crazy.
“So there will be a new name on the trophy this year. I think that will shake things up quite a bit and I will be following it with interest,” he added.
McGregor said the decision to train for the surfski event rather than the ultra- distance event had made a major impact on his routine as his training was sharply different at this time of year.
“I have also been getting all these phone calls from the people who help me at the Berg, sorting out transport and accommodation and such things, which has really aggravated the feeling of missing out on the Berg this year.”
‘I will be back’
“Make no mistake, I will be back. The Berg is in my blood and I want to win it again, but it won’t be this year,” he added.
McGregor’s departure has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons in the Western Cape, as elite paddlers debate who will dictate matters in the 228km race from Paarl to the West Coast.
“Watch Graeme Solomon,” said McGregor. “He’s not too old to win it again, and he has more experience on that river than anyone in the front bunch.”
He also tipped Lance King as a candidate, after several years of enthusiastic campaigning as a senior on the Berg.
McGregor said he was excited about the entry of British former marathon world champion Ben Brown, but said his title chances were slim.
“Ben is a great paddler, and he will be right there throughout. I just think it is a huge ask for anyone on their first Berg to learn to river, especially if the conditions change with rain or wind. I expect him to podium though,” said McGregor.
The Berg River Canoe marathon starts in Paarl on 10 July and ends at Velddrif on 13 July.
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