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Hank, Grant in charge

Defending champions Hank McGregor and Grant van der Walt have a firm grip on a unprecedented hat trick of victories after totally dominating the 49 kilometre first stage of the Hansa Fish River canoe marathon on Friday.

The duo blitzed a four and a half minute lead at the end of their total domination of the first stage that saw several top contenders sidelined by dramas on the river.

ÔÇ£It was just a perfect day for us, one you always dream of having at the Hansa Fish,ÔÇØ said McGregor, who is preparing for the world marathon championships in a fortnights time. ÔÇ£We’re really stoked to be here in one piece and leading going into day two.ÔÇØ

His partner and teammate in the newly formed Team Best 4 Kayak Centre van der Walt said their form showed in the final stages of the race. ÔÇ£Two years ago we were really out of it there but today we felt pretty fresh.ÔÇØ

Barring a disaster of seismic proportions, they have done all the hard work to set up another title, and the national K2 river marathon titles, with the race for the minor places on the podium being led by national sprint squad members Greg Louw and Mike Arthur.

ÔÇ£Its going to be quite tough for us on our own to hold off the four or five boats behind us who’ll be working together to try close the gap,ÔÇØ said Arthur.

German stars Tobias Bong and Achim Overbeek led the chasing pack, despite a spate of disasters on the stage. They started last in the seeded A batch after a spate of mishaps at the start, including another paddler standing on their paddles at the Le Mans style start.

Overbeek was struck a vicious blow on the forehead by a branch concealed in overhanging willows just below Keith’s Flyover, and then took another blow to his ribs from a protruding branch, necessitating a visit to the local hospital after the stage.

ÔÇ£The first one hit me on the head and my whole face was covered in blood which made it quite difficult. That bled constantly for over half an hour’ÔÇØ said Overbeek. ÔÇ£The second tree hit me in the ribs really hard and made it very difficult to breathe which also slowed us down a little bit.ÔÇØ

He was lucky to be able to continue. However the ace French crew of Loic Vinisale and Quentin Bonnetain are out of the race after Vinisale also took a blow to the ribs from a branch that left him unable to paddle on.

ÔÇ£Just after Keith’s we hit the same tree which the others seemed to struggle with and after we took a bit of a swim I just couldn’t manage to paddle anymore and unfortunately we had to pull out,ÔÇØ said Bonnetain.

The Cape surfski combination of Tom Schilperoort and Jasper Mock├® provided another talking point with their fourth place on the stage.

ÔÇ£River paddling is almost like a completely different sport. It requires a lot more precision than surfski and is all about making no mistakes,ÔÇØ said Schilperoort.

The women’s race mirrors the men’s race with pre-race favourites Hillary Pitchford and Abby Adie well clear of their challengers despite several mishaps, including Adie taking a blow to her mouth in the same hidden willow tree branches that caused havoc with the field.

The duo made kids work of the nasty Keith’s Flyover rapid, before streaking away to register an overnight six minute lead.

ÔÇ£We would have loved for it to have been a bit more flawless but we’re here now so I guess we can’t complain too much. Abby drove like a star. We had shot Keith’s Flyover three times before but today was the best out of all of them by far,ÔÇØ said Pitchford.

The big field of paddlers celebrating the race’s 30th anniversary enjoyed clear Karoo weather over a full river, with only a persistent headwind to dog their progress downriver.

Saturday’s 36km final stage into Cradock features three big weirs, with the last, Cradock weir well known for moulding the final outcome of the results. More information can be found at┬áwww.fishmarathon.org.za

Results
Men
1 Hank McGregor/Grant van der Walt 2:43.57
2 Greg Louw/Michael Arthur 2:48.32
3 Tobias Bong/Achim Overbeek 2:48.58
4 Tom Schilperoort/Jasper Mocke 2:48.59
5 Jacques Theron/Piers Cruickshanks 2:49.07
6 Robert Knebl/ Tomas Slovak 2:49.09
7 Andy Birkett/Pierre-Andre Rabie (U23) 2:50.27
8 Michael Mbanjwa/Eric Zondi 2:52.51
9 Mark Mulder/Lance King 2:54.30
10 Alasdair Glass/Edgar Boehm Jnr 2:54.30

Women
1 Hilary Pitchford/Abby Adie 3:10.45
2 Jen Hodson/Tiffany Kruger 3:16.52
3 Kim Brugmann/Angie Gafney 3:21.10
4 Jenna Ward/Brittany Petersen (U18) 3:21.23
5 Debbie Germiquet/Carmen Blakeney 3:23.50

U23 Men
1 Andy Birkett/Pierre-Andre Rabie 2:50.27
2 Lance Kime/Stuart Maclaren 2:54.31
3 Blaine Beresford/Murray Starr (U18) 2:58.46

U23 Women
1  Jenna Ward/Brittany Petersen (U18) 3:21.23
2 Kerry Shuter/Camilla Pennefather (U16) 3:30.35
3 Tamika Haw/Jenna Starr 3:32.38

Junior Boys
1  Blaine Beresford/Murray Starr 2:58.46
2 Donavan Wewege/Gavin Shuter 2:59.06
3 Murray Haw/James Speed 3:07.24

Junior Girls
1  Jenna Ward/Brittany Petersen 3:21.23
2 Kerry Shuter/Camilla Pennefather (U16) 3:30.35
3 Bianca Haw/Tamika Peek (U16) 3:35.31


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