McGregor, Adie triumph amid thrills and spills

2011-01-25 00:00

THERE were plenty of thrills and spills in the supersized 2011 edition of Global Trader Drak Challenge canoe marathon in Underberg at the weekend.

A record field of 932 paddlers took to a full Umzimkulu River for the challenging two-day event, with a number of local paddlers faring admirably.

Scottburgh pair Bryce and Tamlyn Hatton made their presence known, finishing runners-up in the mixed pairs division and 58th overall in a time of 4:19:07:98.

In a race where finishing — which only 569 of the entrants managed — is an achievement in itself, Shadrack Mkhize finished as the top-placed South Coast Striders paddler.

After high drama, defending champions Hank McGregor and Abby Adie retained their titles in the Drak Challenge after both capitalised on mishaps that derailed their challengers.

McGregor started the 38 km final stage from Swartberg Road Bridge outside Underberg to Hopewell farm close to Coleford Resort on Sunday side by side with two former Drak Challenge winners, 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 turbulent river, when his paddle wedged between some rocks, almost flipping him out of his kayak. Against the odds, however, he managed to recover and the front bunch remained intact.

The race was effectively reduced to two when Stott fell out of his boat at the end of the Underberg Gorge, leaving McGregor and Jenkins to race away alone 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 in the last 25 minutes so that Len [Jenkins] didn’t have the jump on me. I messed up in the FastDrak, and I didn’t want that to happen again,” said McGregor, who got his nose ahead for the sprint finish to win the race by 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 at this stage in the season. “I have also been doing a lot of mountain biking, which has eaten into my paddling training.”

Seasoned Gauteng racer Jacques Theron wrapped up fourth place, holding off U21 star Brandon van der Walt, who despite recovering from a bout of tickbite fever, was constantly hounding Theron and his Gauteng ally, Piers Cruikshanks.

Just as delighted 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.

That lead was unchanged when Kime approached her nemesis, “The Mineshaft” chute down Scotston’s weir on the outskirts of Underberg.

This is where she took a swim, like the one that scuttled her 2010 title challenge, and she saw her chances of winning the GT Drak this year disappear into 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.”

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.”

“I was cautious in the rapids once I took the lead,” said Adie.

“I had done my homework at Glenhaven rapid, and even though my line wasn’t the recommended line, I backed myself, and it worked.

“The other rapids were brilliant. Heaven and Hell rapid was heaven.”

Toti surfski ace Michele Eder of Aman­zimtoti managed to hang on to her 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 died five weeks ago.

Donovan Wewege took the U18 boys prize, while U16 rising star Bianca Haw caused something of an upset when she won the U18 girls class outright.

More information can be found at www.drak.co.za.

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