Birkett stuns McGregor to win Drak Challenge

21 January 2014

Andy Birkett snatched a sensational maiden title at the N3TC Drak Challenge Canoe Marathon on Sunday after exploiting a mistake by three-time champion Hank McGregor in the closing stages of the race, while Abby Adie won the women’s title for a fourth time.

The Drak Challenge also served as the South African K1 River Championships.

Racing on a low uMzimkulu River in KwaZulu-Natal, Birkett (EuroSteel) and McGregor (Kayak Centre/Team Jeep) started the 23km final stage from Callaway Bridge to Hopewell Farm side by side, with McGregor having won the first stage by a mere two seconds.

The pair challenged each other throughout the final stage, but were still locked together as they entered the Lower Gorge, just 20 minutes from the finish.

Stuck

McGregor raced to the bottom of Mkhulu Rapid, where he got stuck on some rocks, while Birkett took another line that he had researched and managed to get a 50- metre lead on McGregor.

“For the next two kilometres I looked back over my shoulder at every corner and every rapid to see if Hank was chasing me,” said afterwards. “Only when I realised that he had given up the chase did I start thinking about the fact that I might win the title.

“I am really stoked with the win because it helps me prove to myself that my paddling is improving, and that I can mix it up with Hank McGregor and the flatwater marathon paddlers.”

Birkett, who won the under-23 marathon world title in 2013, has made Underberg, where the Drak Challenge took place, a base for his Dusi training campaign with his partner Sbonelo Zondi.

‘A daunting task’

“It was a daunting task starting the final stage alongside Hank McGregor, and so it should be,” he admitted. “He is South Africa’s top canoeist and I think he will be forever, based on what he has achieved.

“It was a very tough race. We weren’t giving each other an easy time out there, but that is what racing is all about, so I am a little surprised but very chuffed with my win here today.”

Third place

Defending champion Grant van der Walt (Varsity College/Team Jeep) grabbed the last spot on the podium from K1 Dusi champ and the top under-23 finisher Lance Kime, with Len Jenkins holding off the gutsy visiting Australian Josh Kippen for the fifth place. Damon Stamp was in a class of his own as he romped to a comfortable win in the junior boys’ ranks.

Women’s title

The women’s title fell for a fourth time to Abby Adie (Best 4 Healthcare/Kayak Centre), who got engaged on the weekend to her boyfriend Kyle Solms. However, her romantic milestone didn’t afford her any leeway from teammate Robyn Kime, who closed down more than half of Adie’s overnight lead on the final stage.

“I started in elapsed time and Robyn was in the first batch, which made it very difficult to keep track on where she was relative to me,” Adie explained after securing victory.

Dusi Canoe Marathon

The Natal Canoe Club star will next now turn her full attention to her bid for the 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon title, as her partner Czech partner Ana Adamova has just arrived back in South Africa for the final run-in to the big race in February.

Kime won the CSA Silver medal, while Michelle Burn raced consistently to grab to third step on the podium. Fifth placed Jenna Ward took home the under-23 gold medal.

RESULTS

Men

    1. Andy Birkett 2:53:45
    2. Hank McGregor 2:54:39
    3. Grant van der Walt 2:57:09
    4. Lance Kime (u23) 2:57:11
    5. Len Jenkins Jnr 3:00:30

Women

    1. Abby Adie 3:15:18
    2. Robyn Kime 3:18:20
    3. Michelle Burn 3:24:29
    4. Alex Adie 3:27:40
    5. Jenna Ward (U23) 3:28:07

Under-23 Men

    1. Lance Kime 2:57:11
    2. Siseko Ntondini 3:02:03
    3. Owen Gandar 3:02:08

Under-23 Women

    1. Jenna Ward 3:28:07
    2. Brittany Petersen 3:29:00
    3. Jordan Peek 3:35:37

SAinfo reporter