Knutsford - Hometown hero Greg Louw is in pole position to win the 2015 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon after he and partner Andy Birkett banked a two and a half minute lead during Friday’s opening stage from Grassridge Dam to below Knutsford while Abby Solms and Anna Kožíšková are well primed to retain their women’s title after their comfortable stage victory.
The pair of Louw and Birkett overcame a powerful men’s field to secure themselves the overnight lead heading into Saturday’s second and final stage of the event that doubles as the 2015 South African K2 Championships, the ideal present for birthday boy Birkett.
“There isn't too much to gain from the first stage but if you can gain a bit here and there it goes a long way to hurting the other guys a little bit,” explained Louw (Knysna Racing). “I think we were trying to capitalise on any mistakes that the other guys made and when Andy put on the after burners I just made sure I kept the stroke rate going!”
“I really just wanted to have fun out there today and to pull off the win on stage one is great; I'm really stoked!” added Birkett (Euro Steel).
The pair surged to the front of the talented pack from the get-go with only defending champ Hank McGregor (Jeep Team/Kayak Centre) and his silver medal Marathon World Champs partner Jasper Mocké (Mocké Paddling) able to match the blistering early pace.
Having both only jetted in from the Surfski World Champs in Tahiti only Wednesday, McGregor and Mocké eventually ran out of steam shortly after the Katkop Weir portage, giving Louw and Birkett the opportunity to break free that they had been hoping for.
“We were going along nicely until Katkop and then I went through a bad patch for ten minutes or so where the jetlag and the past couple of weeks just seemed to catch up to me,” said McGregor.
“Hats off to Greg and Andy, they paddled really well today,” added Mocké. “It's not over yet though; with leading the Fish comes a bit of pressure too so we’ll just have to see what happens tomorrow.”
After a slow start Brandon van der Walt and Stu Maclaren enjoyed a stormer of a second half of the stage to finish on the bottom step of the day’s podium, narrowly edging out ADreach’s Len Jenkins and Siseko Ntondini while Czech crew Jakub Adam and Michael Odvarko rounded out the top five after a brief swim at Soutpans Rapid.
The battle for the women’s crown fast became a one boat affair as Solms and Kožíšková charged away from the chasers en route to securing a near nine minute overnight lead.
“I don't think that we could have asked for a better race today!” said Adie
(Kayak Centre). “Absolutely everything worked and went according to plan and
Anna's strength in the back was something else!”
“It would be amazing if we could win tomorrow; I would put that on the same level as my Marathon World Champs gold medal a couple of weeks ago,” added Kožíšková, Adam’s twin sister.
Sprint sensation Bridgitte Hartley and surfski star Michelle Burn caught many of the talented chase group unawares as they made light work of the testing obstacles as they claimed second place for the day.
A brief swim at Soutpans had Hartley and Burn anxiously checking over their shoulder however little did they know the trouble their chasers Jenna Ward and Kyeta Purchase were also having just metres further up the very same rapid.
Regular swims eventually reduced Ward and Purchase to fourth after junior crew Cana Peek and Donna Hutton – the only top women’s crew to shoot the infamous Keith’s Rapid – charged through into third place.
Saturday’s second and final stage takes place from below Knutsford to Cradock Sports Complex. More information can be found at www.fishmarathon.org.za
SUMMARY OF RESULTS - HANSA FISH RIVER CANOE MARATHON
STAGE 1 (GRASSRIDGE DAM - KNUTSFORD)
1. Greg Louw/Andy Birkett 2:43.28
2. Hank McGregor/Jasper Mocké 2:46.02
3. Brandon van der Walt/Stuart Maclaren 2:50.09
4. Len Jenkins/Siseko Ntondini 2:50.10
5. Jakub Adam (CZE)/Michael Odvarko (CZE) 2:51.08
6. Murray Starr/Louis Hattingh (U23) 2:52.01
7. Benjamin Bradford/Owen Gandar 2:55.12
8. Alan Houston/Andrew Houston 2:55.42
9. Gavin Shuter/Dave Hamilton-Brown 2:55.43
10. Brent Chiazzari/Trenton Lamble 2:55.43
11. Tom Schilperoort/Dawid Mocké 2:57.04
12. Gene Prato/Bryan Leroux 2:58.09
13. Thulani Mbanjwa/Nhlanhla Cele 2:58.10
14. Jean van der Westhuyzen/Mark Keeling (U18) 2:59.24
15. Phineas Zulu/Alex Roberts 2:59.25
16. Lucas Mthalane/Luke Stowman 3:00.19
17. Brandon Orpwood/Jarryd Gibson (U18) 3:00.53
18. Abby Solms/Anna Kožíšková (1st Women) 3:00.56
19. Sbonelo Khwela/Banetse Nkhoesa 3:00.17
20. Heinrich Schloms/Gavin White 3:02.19
1. Abby Solms/Anna Kožíšková 3:00.56
2. Bridgitte Hartley/Michelle Burn 3:09.46
3. Cana Peek/Donna Hutton (U18) 3:13.30
4. Jenna Ward/Kyeta Purchase (U23) 3:18.42
5. Alex adie/Nikki Mocké 3:20.01
6. Jordan Peek/Natasha Bulbring 3:26.34
7. Marion Young/Kim Peek 3:27.52
8. Bianca Haw/Tamika Haw (U23) 3:32.21
9. Bianca Beavitt/Robyn Henderson 3:33.34
10. Kirstin Scott/Chloe Bunnett 3:33.35
1. Murray Starr/Louis Hattingh 2:52.01
2. Alan Houston/Andrew Houston 2:55.42
3. Gene Prato/Bryan Leroux 2:58.09
1. Jenna Ward/Kyeta Purchase 3:18.42
2. Bianca Haw/Tamika Haw 3:32.21
1. Jean van der Westhuyzen/Mark Keeling 2:59.24
2. Brandon Orpwood/Jarryd Gibson 3:00.53
3. Mpilo Zondi/Siyanda Gwamanda 3:02.47
1. Cana Peek/Donna Hutton 3:13.30