The first stage of the 2015 N3TC Drak Challenge sees defending champions Andy Birkett and Abby Adie head into Sunday’s second stage in full command of their respective categories.
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 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.
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.
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 cost him the birthday present to himself that he’d hoped for.
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.”
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.
Sunday’s second stage starts at Swartberg Road Bridge and finishes at Early Mist Farm.