On a day where the top paddlers felt the effects of a slightly fuller river, the class of Hank McGregor shone through as the five-time Canoe Marathon World Champion won the first stage of the 2014 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon on Friday and holds a slender 54 second lead over Andy Birkett while Abby Adie and Michele Eray will fight it out for the women’s title on Saturday’s second stage.
McGregor and Birkett traded blows throughout the 45km stage despite McGregor narrowly avoiding a swim at the infamous Keith’s Flyover which claimed a number of victims on the opening day.
‘I had a great race today,’ McGregor said. ‘I made a bit of a mistake at Keith’s where I spun out at the bottom but after that I recovered and we had a group of five boats all the way until just before Soutpans where I managed to start stretching the bunch a bit.’
The Team Jeep/Kayak Centre star pushed the pace at the front and it was only Birkett who could hold onto the leader’s tail.
‘Everyone came off except for Andrew (Birkett) and then after Katkop Weir he had a bit of a bad patch and I stretched it but didn’t do anything crazy. I was conservative and didn’t race out of my boots at all. I held back until it sort of counted and I’m feeling good for tomorrow,’ a relaxed McGregor said.
With an over 50 second buffer going into the final day of the Hansa Fish, McGregor understands the position and the pressure that comes with being in the front going into the final day.
‘I would love to win and pressure comes with the territory.
‘I am leading at the moment and I would like to stay in the front but There is still a lot of water between now and then though and it is going to be a great race for the title tomorrow.
‘I think it is going to be a great sprint for Cradock Weir and I think if anyone wants to see something then make sure you get to Cradock Weir!’ he added with a degree of excitement.
The challenge from Birkett ran out of steam towards the end of the day as the former under-23 Canoe Marathon World Champ fell off the back at the put in below the Katkop Weir. Despite this, yesterday’s birthday boy was happy with his day on the water.
‘It was really good. I had no expectations before the stage and I said that I just wanted to be in the mix and that’s where I am and I’m pretty chuffed,’ a satisfied Eurosteel hero added.
Local hopeful Greg Louw (Knysna Racing) produced a stellar day of racing to finish in third place, three and a half minutes behind McGregor, but the Cradock born-and-raised paddler understands that there is a lot of paddling still to be done.
‘I just hope that I don’t make any mistakes tomorrow and you never know what is going to happen to the guys up front, so I need to try and minimalise that lead,’ Louw mentioned.
Under-18 star and Canoe Marathon World Champs junior men’s double medalist Louis Hattingh proved he was capable of mixing it up with the best when he powered his way to an impressive twelfth place overall to lead his age group at the end of the first day.
The women’s clash fast became a two filly race as the Abby Adie and Michelé Eray streaked ahead of the rest of the field as early as the Grassridge Dam wall portage with Adie eventually eking out a slender 29 second advantage going into Saturday’s second and final stage.
‘It was a cold and tough day out there today!’ said the Natal Canoe Club/Kayak Centre athlete. ‘I started the day with Michelé (Eray) and Jenna (Ward) on the dam before I managed to break away a little on the portage.’
‘I had Michelé behind me most of the way though and I could see her just there the whole time so it was quite a tough day just trying to stay ahead.
‘I definitely had hoped for a bit more of a lead going into stage two. I’m going to have to be very careful and paddle my hardest tomorrow regardless though. It’s also a shorter day tomorrow so it will probably just be a case of trying to go flatbox right from start!’ she predicted.
Eray, formerly from Plettenberg Bay now living in Oklahoma City in the US, relished the competitive return to her home province and was satisfied with her first stage effort.
‘It’s so good to be back! There is nowhere else in the world like the Eastern Cape and this whole Karoo region is just so uniquely beautiful,’ said Knysna Racing Kayaks’ Eray. ‘I’d also forgotten how much fun this river is and I’m just so grateful to still be able to be here and able to race!’
‘Abby’s a lot stronger than me now so I just tried to avoid making any mistakes and sit close enough to her that I could capitalize on any mistakes she made. She didn’t though, she was flawless and paddled really well so I’m glad just to be within striking distances,’ the defending champ added.
Under-23 paddler Jenna Ward rounded out the women’s podium while Peek sisters Jordan and Cana clinched fourth and fifth.
This year’s Hansa Fish doubles as the 2014 SA K3 River Marathon Championships and the much anticipated clash fast became the Nic Burden, Adam Nisbet, jean-Luc Mauvis show as the pre-race favoured crew powered to a commanding five minutes overnight lead over Calvin Zeelie, Luke McNish and Scott Johnson.
Robyn Henderson, Bianca Beavitt and Lisa Scott were equally strong in their all-woman combo while former Springbok rugby captain Corné Krige – paddling to raise funds for the Corné Krige Children’s Charity which supports underprivileged youngsters in and around Cradock – who pipped fellow former Bok, Tiaan Strauss in their K3 race-within-a-race.
Renowned endurance racing athlete and personality ‘Farmer Glen’ Haw got his nine days of racing action underway when he completed the first stage of the newly launched short course event before his completion tomorrow sends him hurtling into the seven day lone Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike stage race in the Western Cape on Sunday.
Stage two of the 2014 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon from just below Knutsford to Cradock gets underway at 6.30pm on Saturday.
1.Hank McGregor 2:54.24
2.Andy Birkett 2:55.10
3.Greg Louw 2:58.08
4.Jasper Mocké 2:58.08
5.Grant van der Walt 2:59.16
6.Tom Schilperoort 3:03.57
7.Thulani Mbanjwa 3:03.57
8.Stuart MacLaren (U23) 3:04.26
9.Brandon van der Walt (U23) 3:04.43
10.Owen Gandar (U23) 3:04.44
Picture: John Hishin/Gameplan Media
1. Abby Adie 3:18.33
2. Michelé Eray 3:19.02
3. Jenna Ward (U23) 3:24.56
4. Jordan Peek (U23) 3:35.15
5. Cana Peek (U16) 3:45.48
6. Natasha Bulbring 3:46.19
7. Tamika Haw (U23) 3:47.22
8. Lauren Felgate (U23) 3:50.46
9. Bianca Haw (U18) 3:50.51
10. Kirstin Scott 3:51.35