24 January 2011
After a day of high drama on a full Umzimkulu River in KwaZulu-Natal, defending champions Hank McGregor and Abby Adie retained their titles in the Global Trader Drak Challenge Canoe Marathon on Sunday, capitalising on mishaps that derailed their challengers.
McGregor started the 38 kilometre final stage from Swartberg Road bridge outside Underberg to the Hopewell farm, close to the Coleford Resort, side by side with two former winners of the race, Len Jenkins and Ant Stott.
The trio quickly reeled off the first eight kilometres into Underberg before setting off into the notorious Underberg Gorge.
McGregor was the first paddler to be tripped up by the feisty river, when his paddle wedged between some rocks and almost flipped him out of his kayak. Against the odds, however, he managed to recover and the front bunch remained intact and shared a laugh about McGregor’s close call.
The race was effectively reduced to a two-horse race when six-time champion Stott fell out of his boat at the end of the Underberg Gorge, leaving McGregor and Jenkins to race away on the second half of the stage.
Both got through the Lower Gorge unscathed, before McGregor made his break a kilometre-and-a half from the finish.
‘I pushed the pace’
“I pushed the pace in the last 25 minutes so that Len (Jenkins) didn’t have the jump on me. Messed up in the FastDrak (a race over the same course but run on a single day), and I didn’t want that to happen again,” explained McGregor, who got his nose ahead for the sprint finish to win the race by just two seconds from Jenkins.
Stott completed the stage alone to wrap up third almost three minutes behind the leaders.
“Today was my day,” said a delighted McGregor. “I was lucky and I am stoked with the win.”
Jenkins was generous in defeat, and said he had battled with his fitness so early in the season. “I have also been doing a lot of mountain biking, which has eaten into my paddling training,” he said.
Seasoned Gauteng racer Jacques Theron wrapped up fourth place by holding off under-21 star Brandon van der Walt who, despite recovering from a bout of tick bite fever, constantly hounded Theron and his Gauteng ally Piers Cruikshanks.
Just as delighted as the men’s winner McGregor was Howick racer Abby Adie, who retained her title in the women’s division, after starting the final stage nearly a minute behind Robyn Kime.
The lead was unchanged when Kime approached her nemisis, “The Mineshaft” chute, down Scotstons Weir on the outskirts of Underberg. It was the same place where she took the second of the swims that scuttled her 2010 title challenge.
Once again, she saw her chances of winning the GT Drak disappear in the churning water at the foot of the weir as she took another swim.
“Two guys went into the chute ahead of me and I had to slow right down, losing all my speed going into the weir,” said Kime. “I then made a silly mistake. It was a stupid rookie error.”
Abby Adie, on the other hand, didn’t put a paddle wrong on the tricky river and coasted home to a three-and-a-half minute victory over Kime. “I am thrilled to defend my title and I look forward to trying to make it three in a row next year,” she said.
“I was cautious in the rapids once I took the lead,” she continued. “I had done my homework at Glenhaven Rapid, even though my line wasn’t the recommended line, but I backed myself, and it worked.
“The other rapids were brilliant. Heaven and Hell Rapid was heaven!”
Amanzimtoti surfski ace Michele Eder hung hang onto third place, despite also taking a swim at “The Mineshaft” chute. “I am still nervous of the rocks as I am quite new to river racing. I try to picture them as a foamie in the sea,” said Eder.
Adie was touched to be the first recipient of the new Margie Oliver Memorial trophy, which honours the “mother of canoeing” who passed away five weeks ago.
- Hank McGregor 3:45.01
- Len Jenkins 3:45.03
- Ant Stott 3:47.43
- Jacques Theron (Gau) 3:51.32
- Brandon van der Walt (U21) 3:52.34
- Abby Adie 4:09.40
- Robyn Kime (WP, U21) 4:13.08
- Michelle Eder 4:23.14
- Hilary Jean Pitchford 4:26.36
- Alex Adie (EC) 4:33.23
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