Durban – Double world champion Hank McGregor won the Best 4 Healthcare 50 Miler to finally add to his CV the K1 title that has eluded him throughout his stellar career.
Racing alone McGregor completed the 36km final stage into Durban flawlessly and held off a concerted effort from a four boat chasing pack to win by four minutes.
McGregor went hard across the 4km dam leg and started to extend his overnight lead, but disaster struck when his entire store of juice drained on the portage around the Inanda dam wall. He grabbed a bottle of juice from his second and realised that he would have to nurse it throughout the race, held in humid conditions with a strong Easterly headwind sapping the paddlers in the final 10 kilometres.
“The last time I raced in a K1 on this river was back in 2005, so I was learning the river as I went,” said McGregor. “Fortunately there were no major mistakes, because I knew that the other guys were planning to work together to try and catch me.”
Behind him Len Jenkins was quickly caught by Andy Birkett, with Cam Schoeman and Ant Stott setting up to form a four boat chasing bunch to try and close down McGregor’s lead. The plan faltered when Schoeman spectacularly collided with a big rock in the middle of Tops needle rapid, nearly destroying his boat.
In the end it was left to Jenkins and Birkett, the leading Under 23 paddler, to fight it out for second place, which Jenkins took by a boat length.
The junior boys race proved to be a riveting duel between Team Best 4 Kayak Centre colleagues James Speed and Don Wewege.
“It was such a privilege today to paddle in with Thulani Mbanjwa, who is someone I really look up to,” said Speed. “One day I hope to achieve what he has accomplished.”
The women’s race fell to an exhausted Robyn Kime, completing the clean sweep for Team Best 4 Kayak Centre. The Maties student had to dig deep after blowing in the final stages and had to hold off a resurgent Abby Adie, who finished right on her rudder.
“I was finished in the final few kays,” said Kime, who defended the K1 title she won in 2010. “I thought I was used to wind after training in Stellenbosch, but I have never paddled into a headwind like that!”
Adie was left to play catch-up after being dropped in the bunch racing on Inanda dam, and had to gamble big to try and close down a one and a half minute deficit by Tops Needle Rapid.
Eventually she opted to shoot the notorious Island rapid, which Kime had portaged, and suddenly the race for the women’s title came alive. Adie joined a five boat bunch that gradually homed in on Kime, and finished tantalisingly close to the solitary race leader.
Adie was gracious in defeat, and hinted that the women’s race for The Unlimited Dusi in February was going to be highly competitive.
Gauteng ace Jen Theron wrapped up the last place on the women’s podium from Hilary Pitchford.