McGregor, Miedema defend Berg River titles

Hank McGregor won a spirited sprint to clinch his fifth Berg River Canoe Marathon title, at the end of a nerve-racking race on a river swollen by heavy rainfall that has flooded the region for the past fortnight.

The crowd at the finish at Velddrif saw McGregor outsprint Graeme Solomon to the line before hoisting a five-finger salute to celebrate becoming only the second paddler in history to win the overall race title five times.

Paarl’s Donnie Malherbe wrapped up third place and the veteran’s honours, Matie student Heinrich Schloms was fourth and Gavin White wrapped up a solid final-stage sprinting with the leaders to secure fifth place.

A disconsolate Lance King had to settle for sixth after being dropped from the front bunch on the final stage, ending a tough race that saw him slip from third at the halfway point down the leader board after his brave solo breakaway on the third stage imploded when he missed a key shortcut, squandering four and a half minutes.

King’s sixth place also dramatically affected the outcome of the inaugural pro team competition, which was snatched on the final day by Team Value Added Life anchored by Solomon, Malherbe and Schloms, who filled positions two to four.

McGregor’s Team USN had to settle for second despite the fact that McGregor won every single bridge prize hot spot and each day’s two-minute discount off his team’s overall time, after King finishing sixth and Pieter-Willem Basson in 10th place overall.

Despite the very full and fast-flowing river, McGregor’s winning time is still shy of the race record, set by Solomon in 2001, over a slightly shortened course.

Abbey Miedema wrapped up her fourth title in the tough four-stage ultra-marathon, and her third in succession, when she completed a lightning-fast final stage in 27th place overall. Her eventual time was about 111% of Hank McGregor’s winning time, earning her a substantial bonus, but falling just short of earning her equal prize money that had been offered for a 110% race time.

The 28-year-old went into the race cautiously, after openly stating that she preferred tough low Bergs to the many gambles and risks associated with racing on a flooded river.

The final stage saw most of the field paddling over vleis that shortened the 56km stage by as much as 40%.

“Jeepers, it was fast!” chuckled Miedema. “According to my GPS we paddled just 35km today. We were paddling over fences, past silos and miles away from the main river.”

She added: “A lot of time we didn’t really know where we were going, but it was so wide and open that it was easy to see the bunches ahead of you and follow the good lines.”

She admitted that she and the others around her had survived one scare when it looked like they were heading into a dead-end channel.

“Suddenly we were right in the thick of some trees, but we managed to find our way back to the main river without losing too much time. It was such a different Berg. In some ways it feels like a bit of a ‘cheat’ Berg because it was so fast and the days were so short on the full river compared to the last eight Bergs.”

Miedema paddled much of the day with university student Abie Adie as the top three women were all batches in the same starting bunch, which resulted in Miedema preserving her cavernous half-hour lead, and third place going to Jemma Hofmeyer following the withdrawal of Lindi-May Harmsen on the third stage.

Harmsen injured her shoulder on the second day, and after battling through the early part of the third stage, opted out of the race to ensure that her challenge for the World Marathon Championships in the Czech Republic would not be adversely affected by the risk of aggravating the injury.

The junior title went to under-16 Milnerton scholar Ivan Kruger, who dominated the boys’ race most of the event, from Joseph Williams and Hannes Pienaar. Mynhardt Marais was the first sub-master across the line, with Gauteng’s Brian Longley taking the grand master’s honours ahead of the first master home, Paul Lange.

Cally Henderson paddled her way into the history books by becoming the first female master paddler to complete the race when she reached the finish at Velddrif bridge.—Sapa

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