McGregor claims 50 Miler ahead of Birkett, Khwela

2014-12-09 00:00

FLATWATER marathon world champion Hank McGregor won the 2015 Lettie Paddle 50 Miler in a needle three-way tussle with Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Khwela, providing the first major form guide for the 2015 Dusi Canoe Marathon laurels.

With McGregor committed to stepping away from the competitive Dusi K1 to race in a mixed double with his wife, Pippa, the 36-year-old Durbanite says the format of the 50 Miler favoured his strengths and also provided valuable insight into the key top Dusi challengers’ current form.

McGregor led a three-boat charge to the overnight stop below the Marianni Foley Causeway, but gave himself little chance overall as the second stage included the daunting steep three-kilometre portage over Nqumeni Hill.

True to form, he led into the portage, and then watched as first Andy Birkett and then 2013 Dusi champion Lance Kime overtook him on the climb, followed by reigning K2 champion Khwela and Dusi veteran Thulani Mbanjwa. However, once back on the low-level uMngeni River, McGregor quickly reeled in Khwela and Mbanjwa, and the trio set about catching Birkett and Kime before the headwater of Inanda dam.

First Mbanjwa and then Kime fell off the hot pursuit and the four kilometre dam leg saw McGregor take charge in a three-way arm wrestle with Birkett and Khwela. McGregor used the fabled end-sprint that has helped him to five world flatwater marathon titles, to claim the victory.

“The 50 Miler is a paddling race, which suited me,” said McGregor. “Once it came down to the end sprint, I felt really comfortable. Andy [Birkett] tried to come at me a few times, but that really is my zone. I really like the flatwater racing.”

McGregor, however, said the see-saw race provided a glimpse into the strengths and weaknesses that the top Dusi title contenders are showing at this key stage in their preparations.

“Eric [Sbonelo Khwela] was paddling so well, he was super strong. His paddling has improved a lot,” said McGregor. “Andy [Birkett] has the edge over him in terms of pure speed on the water I think, but Andy is a lot heavier than he has been for any of his previous Dusis. He is going to have to do a lot of running training and shed a little weight if he wants to win this one. I think it will be between these two.”

Birkett was not fazed by finishing second to a man who isn’t contesting the Dusi title in February.

“I am happy where I am right now,” said Birkett. “I have just to get the running better and avoid any injuries now. Sbonelo [Khwela] did catch up two minutes from Nqumeni Hill, not just on the run but on the water as well, which is pretty amazing.”

The women’s title fell to Abby Adie, bouncing back from an off-colour performance at the recent Ozzie Gladwin to ensconce herself as the favourite for the 2015 K1 women’s Dusi title. Behind her, her K2 partner from the recent World Marathon Championships, Laura O’Donaghue, staged an impressive stage two fightback to overtake Jenna Ward, to claim second place, reminding Adie that she will be snapping at her heels coming Dusi time in February.

Michaelhouse junior Alan Houston showed why many are touting him for the junior K1 title with a solid 12th place overall.

Results of Lettie Paddle 50 Miler

Top five men

• Hank McGregor 3:40:35.23

• Andy Birkett 3:40:36.08

• Sbonelo Khwela 3:40:43.02

• Lance Kime 3:41:32.89

• Thulani Mbanjwa 3:46:20.20

Top five women

• Abby Adie 4:05:37.17

• Laura O’Donoghue 4:13:24.19

• Jenna Ward 4:18:02.55

• Tamika Haw 4:30:58.55

• Jordan Peek 4:33:57.34

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