Easy win for Birkett in three-way battle

2016-01-28 06:00
PHOTO: anthony grote/gameplan media Abby Solms dominated the women’s race to claim her sixth N3TC Drak Challenge title in the last seven editions of the popular race.

PHOTO: anthony grote/gameplan media Abby Solms dominated the women’s race to claim her sixth N3TC Drak Challenge title in the last seven editions of the popular race.

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ANDY Birkett claimed his third N3TC Drak Challenge title in comfortable fashion on Sunday and Abby Solms cruised to her sixth title in the last seven editions of the race.

Natal Canoe Club paddlers dominated as they captured both the men’s and women’s titles in the picturesque two-day marathon held in the Underberg area.

The field was loaded with the cream of South Africa’s river paddling talent, but day one’s racing turned into a three-way battle between Birkett, Hank McGregor and Len Jenkins jnr for the stage victory.

The racing was very tight and the trio was together with three kilometres to go before Jenkins came off after a tussle with Birkett. When he then had trouble in a rapid, McGregor was held up and Birkett escaped to take the win ahead of the K1 marathon world champion.

Day two proved to be a lot easier for Birkett when McGregor pulled out shortly after the start due to illness, not that the Euro Steel-sponsored star knew that his great rival was out of the running. This led to him to treat the first 10 km of the day as if it was the length of the stage in total, knowing that McGregor would be out to close him down as soon as possible.

“My race tactic was racing Hank, not racing the guys behind him, who would then work together. But I managed to hold them off, and it seemed like my tactics were still fit for that as well,” he told The Witness at the finish after securing victory by almost three minutes over Jenkins, who moved up to second following McGregor’s demise.

“Andy’s fit,” Jenkins said. “I’m feeling fit, but the body is not as young as it used to be.”

Third place went to Owen Gandar, with the impressive junior Jean van der Westhuizen coming through to take fourth overall.

“Today was really tough. It felt really long, but I managed to get in a group with Jasper Mocké and Andrew Houston for a while, but Jasper unfortunately broke his paddle at Glenhaven, and then it was just me and Andrew until the end …” the Michaelhouse star said.

Abby Solms was a class apart in the women’s race, finishing 18th overall to win by just short of 18 minutes over Jenna Ward. Matters, Solms said, went her way. “I had my share of bad luck the day before the race when I snapped my rudder cable. That was bad luck on that day, but I got it all out of the way and had pretty much a flawless race.”

Explaining her approach on the second stage, she said: “Today I wanted to hang in with the guys as far as I could, and I managed to stay with some of them the whole way, which was really awesome. I have never had such an easy day two. Day one was tough. I went hard and tried to open up a big gap in the rapids and stay in control on the flat stretches.”

Reflecting on her successes in the N3TC Drak Challenge, Solms beamed: “I just love it. It obviously suits me well, and I think my river experience serves me well on the technical rapid sections. I think the girls will start catching me as soon as they get more experience.

“It was good, lots of fun, no problems,” runner-up Ward said of her day, while junior winner Cana Peek, who ended fourth behind Donna Tutton, admitted to being very flat on day two: “My arms have given up on me. They were very tired at the end of all these flats, trying to pull my weight through,” she said with a smile.



1. Andy Birkett 3:58:21.95

2. Len Jenkins jnr. 4:01:11.14

3. Owen Gandar 4:02:33.69

4. Jean van der Westhuizen 4:04:40.33

5. Andrew Houston 4:04:54.19


1. Abby Solms 4:15:59.82

2. Jenna Ward 4:31:58.68

3. Donna Tutton 4:37:10.14

4. Cana Peek 4:50:55.79

5. Tamika Haw 4:51:17.74. - Supplied.

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