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Andy and Abby dominate Drak Challenge
- Updated: January 25, 2015
A powerful opening stage of the 2015 N3TC Drak Challenge in Underberg on Saturday by defending champs Andy Birkett and Abby Adie saw the two heading into Sunday’s second stage in full command of this year’s men’s and women’s race respectively.
Euro Steel’s Birkett had his hands full early on as he, five-time marathon world champion Hank McGregor (Team Jeep/Kayak Centre) and 2013 Dusi winner Lance Kime (Euro Steel) broke away from the rest of the field from the get go before an unfortunate mishap for birthday boy McGregor handed Birkett the advantage.
‘Considering I’ve been sick all week after last weekend’s race up in Jo’burg and that this is my first hard paddle since then, I’m really stoked with how things went for me today,’ explained Birkett afterwards.
‘I wanted to try get my nose in front as early as possible because having clean water in front of you on a low river is a big advantage, so I went out quite hard and Hank (McGregor) and Lance (Kime) came with me.
‘Hank had a bit of bad luck just before Black Murray Rapid and we both ended up a bit tangled together while Lance sailed through cleanly.
‘Fortunately I managed to catch Lance a little way down before then getting away from him three kilometres after Black Murray and then I just looked to push all the way through to the finish,’ he added.
The unpredictable Mzimkhulu River handed paddlers another tough hand for the second year running however organisers decided to keep the start at its traditional location at Castleburn which meant a low, technical yet rewarding river awaited competitors.
‘We were really pleased to be able to go from the top; we wouldn’t have had it any other way!’ said a relieved Kime after finishing the stage in second place.
‘It was quite technical and unfortunately things didn’t quite go Hank’s way today but that’s how it goes sometimes in the rapids.
‘It was great fun though with us always dicing at the front early on and the lead changing three or four times before Black Murray before Andy then broke the elastic and I just didn’t have the flat water speed to keep up with him.’
Despite the low conditions and Birkett and McGregor’s heavier frames, the pair kept going away from the rest of the pack until McGregor slotted the nose of his boat in a hole shortly before Black Murray which him cost the birthday present to himself that he’d hoped for.
‘Unfortunately I went into a hole and pegged my nose which then meant Andy had nowhere to go and so ended up half on my back deck,’ explained McGregor.
‘It was no one’s fault, it was just unfortunate but that meant my rudder was forced down into the rocks and crimped the rudder wheel and so I couldn’t steer.
‘I jumped out at the bottom of Black Murray and managed to pull one side free but not the other so all I could really do was limp home as best I could but I couldn’t really push.
‘It was just one of those days though. You win some, you lose some. Andy will take some catching tomorrow!’ he added.
With top five pre-race contender Andrew Houston forced out of the contest due to tonsillitis, Owen Gandar stole the limelight in the race for the minor placing’s as he charged home in fourth place ahead of Varsity College’s Grant van der Walt while under-18 sensation Jean van der Westhuysen mixed it up with his senior counterparts en route to seventh overall.
Gauteng’s Siseko Ntondini (SCARC) was the first under-23 male competitor home on the opening day, finishing ninth overall.
The Kayak Centre/Natal Canoe Club star Abby Adie started the day as firm favourite however the four-time race winner was in a class of her own as she soared to a three and a half minute lead over a flying Laura O’Donoghue who had a stellar second half of the opening day’s action.
‘I think my knowledge of the river worked significantly in my favour today,’ said Adie. ‘I had a pretty clean day all round and I’m happy to come out in front.’
‘I think the conditions actually suited us lighter girls because we have a little bit of n advantage on this level river but it was a nice technical level and it kept you on your toes the whole time.
“Tomorrow I want to hang on to a fast group and have a consistent paddle and I hope that I didn’t overcook it today and I have something left or tomorrow,” she added.
Jenna Ward was the first Under-23 woman across the line in third place in the women’s dice while Peek sisters Jordan and Cana were the fourth and fifth women across the line with Cana in form control of the under-18 girls’ clash.
Picture of Andy Birkett by Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media
Day One Results
1 Andy Birkett 1hr 35min 01sec
2 Lance Kime 1.37:24
3 Hank McGregor 1.39:04
4 Owen Gandar 1.40:58
5 Grant van der Walt 1.40:59
6 Thulani Mbanjwa 1.41:01
7 Benjamin Bradford 1.43:14
8 Jean van der Westhuysen (U18) 1.44:01
9 Siseko Ntondini (U23) 1.44:03
10 Don Wewege (U23) 1.44:06
1 Abby Adie 1.47:38
2 Laura O’Donoghue 1.51:14
3 Jenna Ward (U23) 1.52.27
4 Jordan Peek (U23) 1.56:50
5 Cana Peek (U18) 1.56:51
6 Donna Tutton 1.57:51
7 Hilary Bruss 1.59:08
8 Danica Bartho 1.59:09
9 Tamika Haw (U23) 2.02:44
10 Natasha Bulbring 2.05:21