McGregor claims hat-trick
Durban - Hank McGregor bagged his third Dunlop Surfski World Cup title showing the rich vein of form he's in by beating a very powerful field and an uncooperative flat ocean to comfortably win the 26km race and the hefty R40 000 winner's prize.
18km into the race, as the new world record field of paddlers snaked past the Umhlanga lighthouse, the contest had been reduced to a two horse affair with McGregor and defending champ Dawid Mocké trading blows like heavyweight fighters.
"At Peace cottage just after Umhlanga I decided to make a move," said an elated McGregor. "Dawid (Mocké) didn't come with me and I knew that was my chance."
"The beach break at the new finish was a bit of a lottery so I knew I had to put the hammer down and try get some time in the bank," he added.
McGregor masterfully negotiated the mean backline and shore break at the finish at La Mercy to post a convincing victory from a storming Matt Bouman and a somewhat disconsolate Dawid Mocké who crossed the line in third.
"That's three wins out of five World Cups for me in my hometown but more importantly I'm feeling really good about my form at the moment," said McGregor.
McGregor now sets his sights on the defence of his Windhoek Berg title in three weeks time.
While McGregor might well bask in the limelight, Bouman's sensational charge in the dying stages of the race went largely unnoticed.
Having teamed up with rising Cape star Sean Rice in what appeared to be a dice for third place, with six kilometres to go Bouman took off, dropped Rice and sliced past Mocké to claim his second runner up medal in as many years.
"As much as I hate to admit it there is no doubt about it, Hank is the best paddler in the world," said Bouman, repeating the words of Mocké in the pre-race media briefing.
"I felt Dawid (Mocké) wasn't going at his natural pace when he went with Hank (McGregor) early on and I decided then to just race my own race."
"As we got closer to the finish and I finally decided to go I found my extra weight almost seemed to help me catch the runs and in turn I managed to go past Dawid (Mocké)," he added.
Having worked so hard to stay with and challenge McGregor, defending champ Dawid Mocké had to settle for the bottom step on the podium.
"I went through a bad patch just after Umhlanga and I think Hank sensed I was battling and really pushed hard," said Mocké.
"Towards the end Hank (McGregor) managed to string together a couple of runs which I was unable to do and when a guy of his quality gets ahead of you by fifteen or twenty metres you find yourself going backwards pretty quickly," he added.
The women's race was totally dominated by Eastern Cape Olympian Michéle Eray who shrugged off a crippling dose of flu to win going away from defending champ Nikki Mocké.
"I felt terrible coming into the race. I spent all of Saturday lying on the couch like a granny and was not feeling good at the start. I got a small lead at the 800m turning buoy and was able to slowly pull away on my own from there," said Eray.
While it is difficult to measure Eray's performance in terms of margins of victory in the women's race, she finished twenty fifth overall in one of the most impressive performances by a female in an international event for many years.
"When you get totally obliterated like Michéle (Eray) did to us today it's easy to see why she's the best female surfski paddler on the planet. She was just too good for us and I felt like I was going backwards trying to stay with her," said second placed Nikki Mocké.
Mocké, who was very under prepared for the event thanks to a crippling ten week ankle injury, spent most of the race on her own and struggled in the flat conditions.
"At one stage I was screaming: 'How can there be 395 paddlers doing the same 26km race and I am all on my own?'," she chuckled afterwards.
Tenacious Australian Ruth Highman took third in the women's race despite the complete lack of favourable downwind conditions that she has become accustom to in Perth.
With just less than four hundred paddlers entering the event the Surfski World Cup set a new world record for participation in an international and got underway in a carnival-like atmosphere at Addington beach.
After a week of volatile weather forecasts the anticipated South-West weather conditions never materialised and the huge field of singles and doubles had to slog across Durban bay to Umhlanga and onto the Umdloti river mouth with regular pods of dolphins for company.
The big crowd at the finish were treated to plenty entertainment as the massive eight foot backline surf saw many crews’ races end in agonising swims with countless skis broken in the crunching shore break.
Results at the Surfski World Cup:
1.Hank McGregor 1:44.56
2.Matt Bouman 1:45.31
3.Dawid Mocké 1:45.59
4.Sean Rice 1:47.26
5.Tom Schilperoort 1:49.01
6.Barry Lewin 1:49.52
7.Jasper Mocké 1:50.22
8.Bruce Taylor (Aus) 1:50.27
9.Grant van der Walt 1:50.46
10.Clint Pretorius 1:52.27
11.Mark Anderson (Aus) 1:55.12
12.Richard von Wildermann 1:55.36
13.Brandon van der Walt 1:55.58
14.Adam Nisbett 1:56.51
15.David Slachta (Fra) 1:57.12
16.Yannick Laousse (Fra) 1:57.26
17.Murray Smith 1:58.05
18.Dean Gardener (Aus) 1:58.44
19.Dominic Notten 1:59.19
20.Hennie Roos 1:59.54Women
1.Michèle Eray 2:02.00
2.Nikki Mocké 2:07.38
3.Ruth Highman (Aus) 2:14.02
4.Donna Winter 2:19.19
5.Kirsty Wessels 2:22.55Juniors
1.Dominic Notten 1:59.19
2.Craig Flanagan 2:03.58
3.Kyle Friedenstein 2:05.23
4.Kenny Rice (U16) 2:07.33
5.Calvin McKie 2:14.57Doubles
1.Daryl Bartho/Warren Jacobs 1:49.14
2.Quinton Rutherford/Grant Woollastone 1:50.11
3.Ryan Butcher/Jean-Luc Mauvis 1:50.56
4.Brett Hadiaris/Ross Fountain 1:54.34
5.Brett Bartho/Danica Vorster 1:55.25