Johannesburg - Novice Andy Birkett held off Western Cape ace Graeme Solomon to claim his maiden Berg River Canoe Marathon men's title on Saturday, while Abby Adie stormed across the line in Velddrif to score a convincing win in the ladies' race.
Going into the final stage with just 10 seconds between himself and Solomon, Birkett had to dig deep to hold off the veteran paddler.
"I'm just absolutely shattered. We’ve spent so much time in the boat and 240km is a long, long way. But I'm so chuffed to have pulled off the win. I never expected it at all," Birkett said.
His intention was to use the race as base training for his trip to the Canoe Marathon World Championships later in the year and so, with little or no preparation in Paarl, he was happy with his efforts over the past five days.
"Training was the intention going into the race and I put no pressure on myself because I only flew in the day of the time trial. So I am super stoked to have claimed a victory even though I wasn't here to try and win," he said.
It was a day where Solomon had to make all the moves in order to shave off the deficit to Birkett after fellow title contender Simon van Gysen faded.
"Every move I made he covered," Solomon said. "He (Birkett) is a very experienced racer and he knew that I was the only one that could really beat him today, so he had one man to watch after Simon (van Gysen) dropped off and then he just covered me like a hawk.
"My plan today was to wait for Andy (Birkett) to make any sort of mistake and try and capitalise on that because I knew I couldn't take 10 seconds out of him in an end sprint."
It was a difficult day for Van Gysen who started in third place with an outside chance of taking the overall title. However, coming down with flu recently made his job a lot harder. He soldiered home to finish inside the top three despite falling off the lead group with over an hour’s racing to go.
With the intention of improving on his eighth place in the 2013 Berg River Canoe Marathon, 62-year-old grandmaster Lee McGregor had to settle for another eighth place overall.
Local hero Luke Stowman claimed the top spot in the Under 23 race and ninth place overall, with Thulani Mbanjwa showing his pedigree by finishing in 10th place.
The women’s race was fairly cut-and-dried going into the final 58km from Zoutkloof to Velddrif, and there were no surprises as Abby Adie cruised to a 50-minute victory over Bianca Beavitt.
The KwaZulu-Natal paddler was elated with her win.
"These last four days have been much harder than I expected and I am just over the moon that I managed to get here in first place and with such a big lead," Adie said.
Beavitt and Adie’s twin sister, Alex, rounded out the podium in the ladies' race.
Results of the Berg River Marathon at the end of the fourth stage from Zoutkloof to Velddrif on Saturday:
1.Andy Birkett 4:21.09 16.59.04
2.Graeme Solomon 4:21.10 16:59.16
3.Simon van Gysen 4:28.01 17:06.14
4.Lance King 4:21.21 17:20.21
5.Louw van Riet 4:21.16 17:22.57
6.Jasper Mock 4:36.57 17:23.07
7.Edgar Boehm Jnr 4:24.01 17:28.13
8.Lee McGregor 4:24.02 17:32.28
9.Luke Stowman (U23) 4:23.59 17:36.29
10.Thulani Mbanjwa 4:36.41 17:43.54
11.Lance Kime (U23) 4:36.41 17:45.57
12.Heinrich Schloms 4:36.38 17:53.02
13.Sbonelo Kwhela 4:24.03 18:01.04
14.Paul Marais 4:36.40 18:01.30
15.Clinton Cook (U23) 4:37.25 18:18.48
16.Travis Wilson 4:38.54 18:20.43
17.Tyler Wilson 4:38.55 18:20.43
18.Greg van Heerden 4:37.24 18:25.34
19.Irvin Dixon 4:43.47 18:26.29
20.Anthony Lake 4:37.25 18:27.37
1.Abby Adie 4:46.27 18:38.39
2.Bianca Beavitt 4:59.42 19:27.37
3.Alex Adie 5:21.44 19:51.48
4.Lauren Felgate (U23) 5:25:26 20:47.46
5.Robyn Henderson 5:18.15 21:01.17
1.Luke Stowman 4:23.59 17:36.29
2.Lance Kime 4:36.41 17:45.57
3.Clinton Cook 4:37.25 18:18.48
1.Lauren Felgate 5:25:26 20:47.46
1.Mthobisi Cele 4:51.57 19:03.22
2.Siyanda Gwamanda 5:01.20 19:25.11
3.Mpilo Zondi (U16) 4:59.05 19:57.42
1.Anya Botes 5:57.59 22:48.26
1. Mpilo Zondi 4:59.05 19:57.42