Murray Starr sounded an early warning shot ahead of the N3TC Drak Challenge by winning the tough FastDrak ultramarathon that covers the entire two-day Drak Challenge route in one paddle.
The cheerful Stellenbosch University paddler (pictured right) took full advantage of the excellent water conditions to power home six minutes clear of the on-form Maritzburg College schoolboy Stewart Little, with world marathon champ Hank McGregor and his wife Pippa third in a mixed double.
Starr started cautiously and then gradually moved to the front as other top paddlers made mistakes on the medium level river.
‘I just stayed on the guys’ tails, and once they made mistakes I kinda acted on them,’ said a delighted Starr afterwards. ’I didn’t really have a race plan but I was stoked that the portages came when they did. That’s where I was able to get away from the other guys, because they were reeling me in on the paddle sections,’ he added.
He said that the win sets the stage perfectly for a serious challenge at a top position at the hugely competitive N3TC Drak Challenge in January.
‘I’m keen to have a good crack at the Drak this year. It’s always fun and because I don’t have to be back at Stellenbosch I can come down for a few tripping sessions before the race.
‘It is such a cool race with a vibe that everyone comes down for,’ he said.
Starr will be looking to emulate Owen ‘OG’ Gandar, who rocketed to a stunning third place over at last year’s race, proving that technical river ability, solid base training and, most importantly, good knowledge of the course can produce an upset podium result.
The tough, uncompromising 60km FastDrak can often show excellent base form three weeks before the Underberg major, and the superb fifth place overall by the reigning N3TC Drak ladies champion Abby Solms spoke volumes about her training regime.
The Euro Steel star, a six-time winner of the big race – five of them consecutively – was in sublime form as she paddled and ran her way to victory in the race, following two weeks after winning the KZN Mixed Doubles team race with team mate Andy Birkett on the same stretch of river.
‘I’m really happy with how things went today, and really chuffed with the result. Now I can just hope that it all goes according to plan at the Drak!’
She said that she had made one mistake, taking a swim at a rapid above Glenhaven, the only blemish on an otherwise faultless day on the river.
‘Rather have that happen now that in the Drak Challenge,’ she mused. ’It was great to get some serious mileage in and to iron out those few little bad lines, she added.
Main picture of Solms by Anthony Grotes and of Starr by Brandon MacLeod
1 Murray Starr 4hr 04min 08sec
2 Stewart Little 4:10:11
3 Hank McGregor/Pippa McGregor 4:10:13
4 Tyrone Maher 4:12:39
5 Abby Solms 4:12:59 (first woman)
6 Bailey de Fondamiere 4:13:14
7 Murray Haw 4:16:32
8 Hamish Mackenzie 4:24:14
9 Marc Germiquet 4:24:15
10 Dave Evans 4:25:20