Cradock – Defending champions Hank McGregor and Grant van der Walt shrugged off jetlag and colds to win Friday’s 48km opening stage of the 32nd edition of the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon setting up a commanding lead of more than four minutes over the nearest rivals while Abby Adie and Anna Adamová claim the early advantage in the women’s encounter.
With fellow title hopefuls Andy Birkett and Cam Schoeman forced out of the contest after recently crowned Under 23 Flatwater Marathon World Champ, Birkett, failed to overcome flu he picked up earlier in the week, McGregor – himself fresh off claiming his third Flatwater Marathon World Championships title – and his regular K2 partner, van der Walt, overcame a poor start on a choppy and wind-swept Grassridge Dam to claw their way back through the field to claim day one’s spoils.
“I was really impressed with how good we felt together and how well we clicked today considering the last time we were in a boat together was SA Champs,” said McGregor. “I’m really happy to be leading going into tomorrow!”
“Hank (McGregor) drove really well and, other than a bit of bad luck across the dam, it was a pretty faultless day for us,” added van der Walt.
“Last weekend’s (Marathon) World Champs was obviously the focus for both of us but now that that is behind us its great to be back and having some fun on the river!”
With a howling early morning wind creating large waves at the 82km race’s starting point, many crews – McGregor and van der Walt included – were caught unawares as they set off across the dam without their splash covers in place.
Being horribly exposed to the elements resulted in numerous top pairs take on large volumes of water meters from the start line and having to work twice as hard to not only pump the excess water out but just to stay afloat as well, some boats even having to be rescued by the lifeguards on hand. The fancied international crew of Thomas slovak and Tobias Bong were the biggest casualty on the dam, and fell to last place in the seeded A batch by the time they reached the dam wall portage.
“We pretty much sank going across the dam and only got out on the other side in sixteenth position,” explained McGregor. “We ran the portage really hard and managed to put in ninth, overtook a few more before double trouble and then were just 70 meters behind Len (Jenkins) and Greg (Louw) by Toastrack.”
“Once we picked off the front few boats we just had a really solid paddle from Keith’s (Flyover) to the finish and, after looking at the GPS afterwards, we pretty much kept up a similar sort of speed throughout the day which is pleasing.”
With a sizeable buffer over the rest of the field it would appear it is now McGregor and van der Walt’s title to lose, which if they were to avoid would see them claim their fourth consecutive Hansa Fish doubles title and McGregor’s fifth consecutive K2 title at the event as well.
“I think the trick to our success is we just get along really well in the boat and when we get onto the water we just enjoy ourselves and don’t put any pressure on ourselves,” said van der Walt when asked what he believes is the pair’s key success factor.
“We’ll just look to have a good night’s rest now and then not make any mistakes tomorrow,” explained McGregor.
Despite McGregor and van der Walt in indomitable form at the front of the race countless battles of great intrigue continued to unfold behind them throughout the day with the stage’s second place finishers Ben Biggs and Alasdair Glass being one of the day’s hugely popular fairytale performances.
For Biggs the duo’s remarkable achievement, having been given little chance of even claiming a top ten amidst this year’s quality field by many critics, was the best possible birthday present he could ever have asked for as he celebrated his 23rd birthday.
“Never could I have ever imagined this!” exclaimed a beaming Biggs afterwards. “We’ve been going quietly nicely in a couple of races recently but having really got any really exciting results so this really is awesome!”
“We decided to put our splashies on before we even got going on the dam and that really paid off because we just took off compared to many of the others who had taken in water. That meant we had a clear pathway at the take out and along the portage which makes a huge difference and definitely set us up for our second place finish.
“From there we just tried to keep things going and when Hank and Grant came past us just above Keith’s we tried to hang onto their tail for as long as we possibly could and that really helped pull us clear of a lot of the rest of the guys,” explained Biggs.
“Shortly after Katkop (Weir) we went bang though and were really struggling but we managed to pull things together with a few kilometers to go and we were able to pull as bit of a gap over Len and Greg again,” added Glass.
Having used the element of surprise perfectly on day one to overcome some of their bigger named opponents, Biggs and Glass will however go into day two blatantly marked men and will have to put in a performance of similar standards if they are to hold off the challenge of ‘Fisher King’ Jenkins and local powerhouse Louw.
Despite having one eye on chasing down Biggs and Glass, forty-five seconds ahead, Jenkins and Louw will have the other closely on another of day one’s fairytale pairings, Brandon van der Walt and Stu MacLaren who astonishingly came back from last off the dam to finish fourth, just … behind third.
“Having been stone last at the take out (of the dam) we ran easily and then put our heads down, found a rhythm and went for it. We steadily just kept picking guys off through the willows and then flew past a heap of guys after Keith’s,” explained van der Walt, the younger sibling of race leader, Grant.
“Once we caught Lance (Kime) and Bungee (Thulani Mbanjwa) I thought we could the rest a little but then we saw Len and Greg just around the next corner and decided to keep pushing as hard as we could.
“We’re (forty-four seconds) behind Len and Greg so tomorrow is definitely about trying to get third,” he added.
After a frustrating day of admin Tobias Bong of Germany and Tomáš Slovák of the Czech Republic were the first of the truly remarkable number of international crew home at the end of stage one whilst local lad Ivan Kruger and France’s Valentin Henot claimed seventh, Czech Republic’s Jakub Adam and Lukáš Trefil thirteenth, Australia’s Josh Kippin and Simon Roll fifteenth and Czech Republic’s Richard Hala and Jonatan Sramek eighteenth overnight.
“We filled up with so much water on the dam that our pumps weren’t even able to help us empty and if the paddle across the dam had been 100m longer we would have sank,” explained Bong.
“We shot Keith’s no problem, caught up to fifth place and then swam at a little no name rapid which cost us a lot of time.
“At Soutpans Weir we then looked like toppling over and had to eskimo roll back up, which didn’t cost us a lot of time but wasn’t good for our stability.
“It was a bit frustrating today but this is the Fish and we love it so much! We will go as hard as we can tomorrow and if we do that and have a clean run then I will be happy wherever we finish,” he added.
With competition for places rife amongst the ladies crews as well it is Adie and Adamová who find themselves in the driving seats going into day two after they opened up a two minute seventeen second lead over second placed Robyn Kime and Bridgitte Hartley who, frustratingly, suffered a pedal mechanical early on in the clash.
“We got our splashies on early on the dam, had a really good portage around the dam wall and then managed to break away from the rest pretty early on,” explained a visibly happy Adie. “Every portage Robs (Kime) and Bridg (Hartley) closed in on us though so we kept having to work hard to break away again.”
“I’m really chuffed we went so well today though, especially with Anna (Adamová) having hardly paddled in the river for quite a while. We were just so stable!” she added.
Adamová, having recently claimed a silver medal in the K1 and bronze in the K2 Marathon World Champs events, put her good form to great use and was happy with the progress she made as the day went on.
“It was just such a perfect day,” she beamed afterwards. “We weren’t to stable early on but it got better and better with every kilometer and Abby (Adie) just drove so well!”
“It was also great to go past all the places I swam at last year and fell that much better this time,” she chuckled.
In the juniors clash young stars Louis Hattingh and Bryan le Roux narrowly edged out the Wilson twins, Travis and Tyler, to take a one second lead into the second day’s racing. The Michaelhouse duo of Brandon Macleod and Alan Houston are leading the Under 16 race, whilst Epworth duo Jordan and Cana Peek comfortably lead proceedings in the Under 18 girls category.
Despite the late withdrawal of Dominic Notten and Amy Hare, after Hare twisted her ankle two days beforehand, the highly competitive mixed doubles race delivered a day of action aplenty as Andrew and Alex Adie – siblings of women’s leader Abby – raced home ahead of Cape-based surfski stars Tom Schilperoort and Samantha Murray.
In the K3 tussle it was the Theron trio – Jacques, Cobie and Jen – who overcame PinkDrive ambassadors Jody Taylor, Duane Taylor and Matt Elliott by less than a minute making for a fascinating second stage on Saturday.
Stage two of the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon from Knutsford to Cradock gets underway at 07h00 on Saturday 28 September. More information can be found at www.fishmarathon.org.za
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – HANSA FISH RIVER CANOE MARATHON
1. Hank McGregor/Grant Van der Walt 2:46.39
2. Ben Biggs/Alasdair Glass 2:50.48
3. Len Jenkins/Greg Louw 2:51.33
4. Brandon van der Walt/Stuart Maclaren (U23) 2:52.16
5. Tomas Slovak (CZE)/Tobias Bong (GER) 2:52.55
6. Lance Kime/Thulani Mbanjwa 2:53.29
7. Ivan Kruger/Valentin Henot (FRA) (U23) 2:55.12
8. Brett Bartho/Sibonelo Zondi 2:55.23
9. Pierre-Andre Rabie/Clinton Cook 2:55.24
10. Dawid Mocke/Matthew Bouman 2:56.12
11. Gavin White/Louw van Riet 2:57.52
12. Loveday Zondi/Thando Ngamlana 2:58.57
13. Jakub Adam (CZE)/Lukas Trefil (CZE) 2:59.23
14. Gavin Shuter/Murray Starr (U23) 2:59.25
15. Josh Kippin (AUS)/Simon Roll (AUS) 2:59.46
16. Louis Hattingh/Bryan le Roux (U18) 3:00.25
17. Travis Wilson/Tyler Wilson (U18) 3:00.26
18. Richard Hala (CZE)/Jonatán Srámek (CZE) (U23) 3:01.26
19. Jordan Zeelie/Calvin Zeelie (U23) 3:01.26
20. Ryan Louw/Stuart Laing 3:03.38
1. Abby Adie/Anna Adamova (CZE) 3:06.11
2. Robyn Kime/Bridgitte Hartley 3:08.28
3. Danica Bartho/Michelle Burn 3:17.26
4. Jenna Ward/Kerry Segal (U23) 3:17.33
5. Hilary Pitchford/Brittany Pietersen 3:18.47
6. Jordan Peek/Cana Peek (U18) 3:32.17
7. Kirstin Wessels/Janine Linder 3:33.49
8. Kirsten Penderis/Jodi Cleworth 3:34.17
9. Robyn Henderson/Debbie Lewis 3:34.25
10. Kim van Gysen/Kirsten Gelderblom 3:35.22
1. Brandon van der Walt/Stuart Maclaren 2:52.16
2. Ivan Kruger/Valentin Henot (FRA) 2:55.12
3. Gavin Shuter/Murray Starr 2:59.25
1. Jenna Ward/Kerry Segal 3:17.33
2. Candice Murray/Anna Notten 3:38.24
3. Jenna Starr/Julia Trodd 3:51.07
1. Louis Hattingh/Bryan le Roux 3:00.25
2. Travis Wilson/Tyler Wilson 3:00.26
3. Damon Stamp/Mthobisi Cele 3:07.15
1.Jordan Peek/Cana Peek 3:32.17
1. Andrew Adie/Alex Adie 3:08.41
2. Tom Schilperoort/Samantha Murray 3:11.37
3. Michael Farringer/Frances Beresford 3:17.58
1. Nicholas Burden/Colin Burden/Paul Burden 3:14.06
2. Jacques Theron/Jen Theron/Cobie Theron 3:14.51
3. Jody Taylor/Duane Taylor/Matt Elliot 3:15.58