The talk of the Berg River Canoe Marathon before the start was Hank McGregor’s last-minute entry into the race, but it was young Jeremy Maher who stole the limelight at the end of Day 1 on Wednesday.
Maher won the four-way tactical battle to eke out a slender two-second lead at the end of the opening stage on Wednesday when he beat Thomas Lovemore into second on the 62km opening stage from Paarl to Zonquasdrift.
David Evans edged out McGregor in the sprint for third, but with just three seconds separating the top four, the race is still wide open. However, as the race heads into the “short” 46km second stage from Zonquasdrift to Bridgetown on Thursday, it seems one of the paddlers who dominated the front group is now almost certain to be the winner on Saturday.
In the women’s category, Christy Shrimpton kept the U23 flag flying when the Peninsula Canoe Club member controlled the race from the front all day to end up with a solid 10-minute lead by the time she arrived at Zonquasdrift. Bianca Beavitt followed her home with Ansune Basson five minutes further back.
Maher was not as surprised as the rest of the paddlers when he saw McGregor had submitted a last-gasp entry. The young Pietermaritzburg paddler had transported McGregor’s boat down to the Cape, so for the past two weeks he has known the 12-time champion was considering racing the gruelling four-day event.
The front group of four men – Maher, Lovemore, Evans and McGregor – formed early in the day after the early portage and then worked together to build a lead over the chasers, before the cat and mouse tactics started at the end of the day.
“We managed to get away and make the break straight after the portage and then gelled well as a group,” said Maher after the finish. “We worked well together and the changeovers were smooth.
“The water was a bit higher than for my previous two Berg River Marathons, so the eddies were a bit more tricky than before, but the water level was nice.
“Coming toward the finish I worked out my pulls so I was pulling and Hank was on the diamond. I think I pulled about the last three kilometres and then was able to hold on and take the win today.
“I have tripped the river so I think I know the river quite well for tomorrow, so that may give me an advantage over the other three, and if I get the chance to break away I will … but we will just have to see what happens.
“I think we are all still just racing Hank.”
IMAGE: John Hishin
DAY 1: Selected Results
1 Jeremy Maher 4:12:15
2 Thomas Lovemore 4:12:17
3 David Evans 4:12:18
4 Hank McGregor 4:12:18
5 Ant Lake 4:18:02
6 Jacques Theron 4:18:03
7 Daniel Jacobs 4:18:04
8 Kenny Rice 4:18:04
9 Heinrich Schloms 4:23:54
10 Ron Benjaro 4:27:01
1 Christy Shrimpton 4:53:12
2 Bianca Beavitt 5:03:01
3 Ansune Basson 5:08:29