Velddrif – In what was one of the most exciting men’s races at the Berg River Canoe Marathon in a number of years, novice Andy Birkett managed to hold off Western Cape ace Graeme Solomon to claim his maiden Berg title with Abby Adie storming to a convincing win in the ladies race as she crossed the line in Velddrif on Saturday.
Going into the final stage with just ten seconds between himself and Solomon, Birkett had to dig deep to hold off the vastly experienced bamboo Warehouse paddler despite hurting tremendously.
“I am just absolutely shattered. We’ve spent so much time in the boat and 240km is a long, long way but I am so chuffed to have pulled off the win and I never expected it at all,” the visibly exhausted EuroSteel athlete said. “It feels amazing, it is a really tough four days of racing and I was fortunate enough to find myself in a group of nice paddlers every day and we had some good, clean racing out there.”
Birkett’s intentions when he arrived in Paarl 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 to 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 commented.
It was a day where Solomon had to make all the moves in order to shave off the deficit to Birkett however following the fading of fellow title contender Simon van Gysen, Solomon was aware that Birkett just had to keep up with him.
“Every move I made he covered, he 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,” he said.
“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 came into the final day in third place and still with an outside shot at taking the overall title. Coming down with flu recently it made his job a lot harder on Saturday but he soldiered home to finish inside the top three despite falling off the lead group with over an hour’s racing still to go.
With the intention on bettering his eighth place in the 2013 Berg River Canoe Marathon, 62-year-old grandmaster Lee McGregor had to settle for another eighth place overall at the 2014 event. Following the birth of his grandson during the race the popular paddler has added incentive to celebrate his consecutive top ten finishes.
Having been in second place in the Under 23 race going into the final stage local hero Luke Stowman produced a magical display on the last day to not only claim the top spot in the Under 23 race but ninth place as well. It was also a strong performance for Build It ace Thulani Mbanjwa who showed his pedigree as he powered his way to a tenth position.The women’s race was fairly cut-and-dry going into the final 58km’s from Zoutkloof to Velddrif and there were no surprises with best 4 Healthcare/Kayak Centre star Abby Adie cruising to a 50 minute victory over Bianca Beavitt.
The KwaZulu-Natal paddler was elated with her win and was conscious that her tactics would remain the same throughout the race.
“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 so I am just really happy,” Adie mentioned.
“I just thought that on each day I would just push as hard as I can and I started just going for an overall position and I didn’t expect to be placed so high up!”
It was Beavitt and Adie’s twin sister Alex who rounded out the podium in the ladies race as a slender overnight gap grew on the last day with Beavitt taking advantage of some ill-fortune for Adie to take second place comfortably in the end.
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
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
Images: John Hishin/Gameplan Media