Hank McGregor paddled his way into the history books by becoming the first canoeist to win three back-to-back K1 titles in the Global Trader Drakensberg Challenge, holding off a spirited challenge from Len Jenkins, while Robyn Kime finally bagged the women’s title that seemed fated to elude her.
McGregor and Jenkins raced the majority of the 70 kilometres side by side, until world marathon champ McGregor powered his way to the front on the final corner to claim his third victory in as many years at the event.
The duo finished the first stage together, with the tussle resumed on day two and it wasn’t long before things turned to into a colossal battle with neither willing to give an inch on the water nor the slightest of psychological advantage.
With strong rains having arrived on Saturday afternoon and continuing throughout the night the mighty Umzimkulu rose to the occasion and provided the perfect setting for the spectacle which developed between some of the country’s top river paddlers.
ÔÇ£It was just superb out there today! It’s always great to win the Drak, especially with it being the first major race of the season so I’m really chuffed with the good start to the year and to have become the first person ever to have won three titles in a row in a K1,ÔÇØ said McGregor.
ÔÇ£Len (Jenkins) and I had a great race and spent a lot of time together on the water. I always thought it would come down to an end sprint so I just tried to keep my nose front as much as I could today and then fortunately I managed to get the jump on him over last bit and get home first which I’m really chuffed about,ÔÇØ he added.
With the duo set to combine in the same boat in less than a month’s time when they look to tackle The Unlimited Dusi together, all bodes well judging by the form both paddlers displayed in Underberg this weekend.
ÔÇ£Len’s (Jenkins) a phenomenal competitor and it was great to be able to battle it out with him for the past two days. It was great to paddle through the valley with some company today and we definitely push each other throughout,ÔÇØ said McGregor.
ÔÇ£We’re both in great shape and this weekend just reinforced how strong our paddling is at the moment and it was a huge confidence for us to have finished first and second. It just shows how similar our standard is and hopefully that can lead to good things at Dusi.
ÔÇØÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿Having dropped Jenkins on the compulsory portage at Mineshaft Weir, McGregor then held the lead for 30 minutes before Jenkins eventually managed to claw his way back at the leader but it just wasn’t enough and last year’s runner-up once again had to settle for the second step on the podium. ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿ÔÇ£I couldn’t have hoped for too much coming into this race. I’ve been doing loads of running recently and Hank (McGregor) just had a really good one today so I’m not too disappointed,ÔÇØ said Jenkins.
ÔÇ£Hank (McGregor) put in a little further down than I did after the portage and he managed to get ahead. I then managed to close the gap and tried to take it away at the end but I was in the wrong position coming into the end sprint,ÔÇØ he added.
ÔÇ£We’re both feeling good at the moment though so hopefully now we can just have a good Dusi together,ÔÇØ he added.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿Having suffered at the hands of the low opening day Team Best 4 Kayak Centre’s Grant van der Walt had a stormer of a second day and after starting the day in fifth position he then powered his way to third place overall and in the process broke his own day two record time.
ÔÇ£I had a really bad day yesterday but the water was just perfect for me today. I did my best not to worry too much about the guys behind me and just tried to focus on catching the guys in front of me,ÔÇØ said van der Walt.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿ ÔÇ£I knew there was no point in trying to just finish third so I went out there trying to catch Hank and Len and I just put my head down and went for it. I managed to catch Ant (Stott) and then my brother (Brandon) but the top two were just too strong,ÔÇØ he added.
Brandon crossed the line shortly after his older brother and completed another resounding day for the newly formed Team Best 4 Kayak Centre and they claimed all four top positions in the men’s race before leading lady and fellow team member Robyn Kime claimed her first Drak victory.
Kime, having started the day with a lead of over seven minutes, set her about her business early on and stretched her lead over her nearest rival by a further minute and finally broke her Drak hoodoo which has seen her finish second for the past three years.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿ÔÇ£It’s always really great to win a race for the first time and the Drak is one of my favourite races so to have won today really is fantastic!ÔÇØ said Kime.
ÔÇ£Hopefully it is a sign of things to come this year.ÔÇØÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿ÔÇ£Everything went so smoothly for me today. I didn’t make any mistakes which was great and it was nice to be able to race against and work with the men.
“The guys work really hard and put in some really tough intervals over the flats so I certainly had to work a lot harder than usual but it was nice for things to be competitive and I definitely think I went a lot faster,ÔÇØ he added.
One of the performances of the day belonged to women’s defending champ Abby Adie of Team Best 4 Kayak Centre as she managed to lift herself from a disappointing first day and work her way into a solid second place behind Kime.
ÔÇ£I had a great start today and just worked with the guys around me early which helped me catch Abbey (Ulansky) at the first weir,ÔÇØ said Adie. ÔÇ£Once I caught Jen (Hodson) I just tried to race my own race and, besides a stupid swim right at the very end which fortunately didn’t cost me anything, I was very happy with how everything went.
ÔÇ£Yesterday was very disappointing but at the start of the weekend I was hoping for a podium finish so I’m still very happy,ÔÇØ she added. ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿In the junior boys section it was Emile Theunissen from Gauteng who managed to get ahead of KZN based Murray Starr and Murray Haw whilst in the junior girls it was Brittany Petersen who claimed the victory ahead of Jordan Peek and Bianca Haw.
DAY TWO OF THE GLOBAL TRADER DRAK CHALLENGEÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿
1 Hank McGregor 2hr 16min 32sec 3:56.11ÔÇ¿, 2 Len Jenkins 2:16.43 3:56.22, ÔÇ¿3 Grant van der Walt (U23) 2:15.08 3:58.21, ÔÇ¿4 Brandon van der Walt (Under-23) 2:17.36 3:59.26,┬á ÔÇ¿5 Greg Louw 2:21.13 4:06.17ÔÇ¿, 6 Ant Stott 2:23.27 4:06.18,┬á ÔÇ¿7 Shaun Griffin 2:21.22 4:06.27, ÔÇ¿8 Jacques Theron 2:21.30 4:08.45. ÔÇ¿9 Jeffrey Smith 2:21.32 4:08.46, ÔÇ¿10 Andrew Birkett (Under-23) 2:21.00 4:11.06
1 Grant van der Walt 2:15.08 3:58.21ÔÇ¿, 2 Brandon van der Walt 2:17.36 3:59.26, ÔÇ¿3 Andrew Birkett 2:21.00 4:11.06
1 Emile Theunissen 2:24.21 4:15.10ÔÇ¿, 2 Murray Starr 2:28.34 4:19.19, ÔÇ¿3 Murray Haw 2:27.04 4:20.52
1 Robyn Kime (Under-23) 2:26.49 4:19.05, ÔÇ¿2 Abby Adie (Under-23) 2:27.55 4:28.40, ÔÇ¿3 Jen Hodson 2:31.02 4:30.30, ÔÇ¿4 Abbey Ulansky 2:36.43 4:36.13, ÔÇ¿5 Brittany Petersen (Under-18) 2:37.02 4:41.47
1 Robyn Kime 2:26.49 4:19.05ÔÇ¿, 2 Abby Adie 2:27.55 4:28.40, ÔÇ¿3 Brittany Petersen (Under-18) 2:37.02 4:41.47
1 Brittany Petersen 2:37.02 4:41.47ÔÇ¿, 2 Jordan Peek 2:41.31 4:44.29,┬á ÔÇ¿3 Bianca Haw (Under-16) 2:40.18 4:49.14