Hank McGregor and Mich├¿le Eray tightened their strangleholds on the men’s and women’s races in the Windhoek Berg River canoe marathon with decisive charges on Thursday’s 46-kilometre second stage that saw a number of top contenders falling behind in a day of high drama on the river.
Racing alone throughout the stage, McGregor ground away to add another minute to his overall race lead in a relentless solo exhibition blemished by a momentary lapse in a treeblock near Ysterpen in the latter stages on the second leg to the headwaters of Misverstand dam, reports Sport24.com
“I was racing faster than I was when I checked out this section while I was tripping and I came around a corner and got stuck right in a treeblock,” said McGregor. “The water was flowing fast and I really had to battle to reverse the boat out of the tree block. I guess it cost me a minute, but it had me worried.”
McGregor now holds all the cards with an overall race lead of six minutes and fifty two seconds at the halfway point of the race. His control of the race was strengthened by a costly error that derailed the challenge of his main rival Lance King, who got dumped in a treeblock 15 minutes from the end of the stage, costing him four places and more than five minutes.
“I fell out of my boat and was really worried that it was going to get sucked under and broken,” said King. “But it drifted out of the treeblock unscathed and then I had to swim off after my paddle while the others guys kept coming past me,” said King in disbelief afterwards.
His partner in the chasing bunch Pierre-Andre Rabie took full advantage of King’s mishap and raced away to secure second place, some thirty seconds ahead of a charging Jacques Theron.
“We realised that the chasers were closing in on us, and when Lance (King) got stuck I realised I had to go. I didn’t want to give Jacques Theron a chance to get any closer. He is a class act and you don’t want to give him a sniff,” he added.
Theron was pleased with his progress through the ranks, particularly as he has not done the base work he has been accustomed to doing in previous years. He was driving a three-boat group with Heinrich Schloms and Graeme Solomon that was closing in on King and Rabie at a steady rate in the final hour of the stage.
Solomon, however, was another casualty of the treeblocks as the big man got stuck in a narrow channel and fell off the group to finish a distant fifth.
Plettenberg Bay Olympian Eray was beaming as she arrived alone at the overnight stop adding a further two and a half minutes to her overnight eight-minute lead, which she put down to her careful homework on the tricky final hour’s paddle from Drie Heuwels weir to the finish.
“If you did your homework then today’s second stage was fun,” said Eray. “But there are plenty of examples of top paddlers who suffered because they didn’t make the right choices in the tricky tree blocks and channels in this section.”
Eray spent long hours studying this section with her training partner Pierre-Andre Rabie in the build-up to the race. Significantly the pair enjoyed probably the cleanest races on the second stage.
Sprint Olympian Jen Hodson battled valiantly to stay with Eray and Kime on the second stage as the women once again started in a single batch and not in elapsed time. The trio were together at Train Bridge roughly halfway through the stage but it was clear that Hodson was battling. “I played with the big girls today, and they hurt me,” she said in summary of her stage which left her in third, 17 minutes behind race leader Eray’s pace.
Hodson fell off the women’s front bunch above Drie Heuwels, leaving Kime and Eray to tussle for the stage honours. Kime gifted Eray with the ideal opportunity to break away when she elected to paddle into a narrow right hand channel that slowed her down.
“When I got back into the main flow, Mich├¿le was fifty metres ahead of me and she hit this mean interval,” said Kime. “It was a mistake on my part, I should have known better.”
Veteran Berg racer, Robbie Herreveld finished in seventh, pleased with his performance after battling two days of debilitating stomach cramps, and a build-up shackled by illness. The Gauteng racer’s performance will be key to the outcome of the team race, as his veteran team includes Theron, Mike Stewart and Graeme Monteith, all of whom are in top thirteen places.
Friday’s third stage is a 74km leg from Bridgetown to Zoutkloof.
1 Hank McGregor 7:27.01
2 Pierre-Andre Rabie 7:33.53
3 Jacques Theron 7:37.03
4 Heinrich Schloms 7:37.04
5 Graeme Solomon 7:38.52
6 Lance King 7:39.07
7 Robbie Herreveld 7:43.46
8 Edgar Boehm Jnr 7:43.47
9 Michael Stewart 7:43.49
10 Nick Longley 7:48.57
11 Donnie Malherbe 7:56.04
12 Gert van Deventer 7:56.05
13 Graham Montieth 8:00.24
14 Marc Holtzhausen 8:00.25
15 Paul Marais 8:00.26
16 Ernest van Riet 8:02.54
17 Tom Schilperoort 8:04.30
18 Mynhardt Marais 8:04.31
19 Chris de Waal 8:07.28
20 Ian Trautmann 8:08.28
1 Michele Eray 8:28.12
2 Robyn Kime 8:33.33
3 Jen Hodson 8:40.00
4 Hilary Pitchford 8:52.51
5 Donna Winter 9:05.31
6 Jean Wilson 9:07.28
7 Angie Gafney 9:15.42
8 Robyn Henderson 9:29.02