Johannesburg - Defending champion Hank McGregor showed his undisputed class as he bounced back from an error during the time trial of the Berg River canoe marathon on Tuesday to post the fastest time and claim pole position at the front of the grid.
The full river over the extended eight kilometre time trial, and an unexpected thick tree block caught many of the invited top 60 male paddlers by surprise, including McGregor who lost valuable time trying to skirt the obstacle.
Once extricated, he scorched downriver to post the fastest time, dislodging his teammate and Berg novice Grant van der Walt from the top of the leaderboard.
Former winner and Berg stalwart Graeme Solomon was third.
"I had to bounce back from taking a wrong channel, which was frustrating because we had tripped this section beforehand to check it out," said McGregor.
"I knew Grant van der Walt would be really fast along with a number of other guys, which just shows the depth in this field, so I had to put the hammer down."
Another former winner Jacques Theron was also a victim of the tree block and wasted time as he ran high and dry trying to get through the thick net of trees.
The time trial win sees McGregor starting in the privilege position, a metre in front of the first row, and in the defending champion's yellow jersey.
He said the week of heavy rains would add a number of variables to the race.
"Everything has changed with the river coming up so much," he said. "All the tree blocks are totally different and many of the lines have changed, so the tripping goes out of the window and suddenly experience in taking quick decisions will count a lot."
A last minute meeting between the top women and the race organisers has led to the contentious women slip-riding rule being modified in a move that is being welcomed as far-sighted and a response to the realities of elite women's racing in South Africa.
Now the women will start in their own batch on the first day, and race where they finished each day's stage for the remainder of the race, allowing them to ride the slip of male paddlers of comparable standard.
"Every other race has adopted this position, and we are thrilled to see the Berg organisers listening to our suggestions and making a change to the race rules to accommodate what was clearly a consensus opinion of all the female paddlers," said two-times winner Robyn Kime.
1 Hank McGregor 24:46.09
2 Grant van der Walt 24:54.80
3 Graeme Solomon 25:50.62
4 Heinrich Schloms 25:51.60
5 Lance King 26:06.75
6 Simon van Gysen 26:19.80
7 Edgar Boehm Jnr 26:32.80
8 Ivan Kruger 26:54.33
9 Robbie Herreveld 27:11.55
10 Louw van Riet 27:26.16
11 Joseph Williams 27:27.60
12 Luke Stowman 27:32.62
13 Graham Monteith 27:46.74
14 Jacques Theron 28:01.58
15 Daan du Toit 28:06.09
16 Loveday Zondi 28:28.02
17 Michael Pretorius 28:31.64
18 Siseko Ntondini 28:47.21
19 Matt Elliott 29:04.74
20 John de Villiers 29:14.39