Stott leads Lowveld Croc race
Ant Stott (Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media)
Mbombela - After a stellar first stage six times race winner Ant Stott holds a commanding lead going into Sunday’s second stage of the 2012 Lowveld Croc Canoe Marathon with a seventh title well within sight for the KZN ace.
Despite a top class battle with defending champ Andy Birkett and the evergreen Gauteng veteran Jacques Theron Stott managed to overcome a couple of blemishes on day one to finish one minute and forty seconds ahead of Theron.
“It was a tough day out there today, said Stott. “Having not been down this river in two years my lines were a little rusty and with a guy like Andy (Birkett) just behind me it was always going to be tough.”
“I’m obviously very chuffed to be in the lead at this stage but there’s still lots that can happen tomorrow so we’ll just have to wait and see what tomorrow brings,” he added.
Having started the day as the top seed Stott was the first boat off the line in the unique time trial type start however with defending champ Andy Birkett starting just thirty seconds behind him it wasn’t long before the gap was closed and the youngster surged into the lead.
Despite setting a fierce pace at the front of the pack Birkett was unable to shake Stott off his wave until around the halfway mark when Stott’s first mistake of the day resulted in a brief swim but it was enough for Birkett to put some breathing space between himself and the top seed.
“Andy caught me after about twenty minutes and he was looking really strong so I had to let him go through,” said Stott. “This actually turned out to be a good thing for me though because it meant I could watch his lines into the rapids and make sure I didn’t make the same mistakes he did,” said Stott.
“I then just sat back and waited for him make a mistake but unfortunately it was me who made the mistake first. The brain remembered a line which wasn’t quite there so I turned a little too sharply and had a bit of a swim at thirteen and a half (rapid).”
“I took a bit of a nasty swim and by the time I emptied and got back in Andy had opened up a bit of a lead so I just had to keep chasing hard. Andy then went and pegged his boat really hard at the next rapid though so I was able to get ahead again but then I had another swim about five kilometres down river.”
“I fully expected Andy to at least catch me if not come past me but fortunately I managed to get back in before he came through and had enough left in the tank to cross the line in first place and then it was actually Jacques (Theron), the diesel engine, that came home second,” he added.
For Stott day two presents a slightly different challenge however the vastly experienced competitor will undoubtedly have a clear idea of precisely what will be required to give himself every possible chance of staying ahead of the chasing pack.
“There are a few more flats tomorrow and I’m used to having Cam (Schoeman) in the back of the boat to provide all the power but hopefully I’ll have enough left in the tank,” said Stott. “It would be fantastic to get another win, especially in this race which is definitely one of my favourites.”
For Theron it was a day of far less drama and on a river notorious for capturing prisoners at the slightly hint of a mistake a clean first stage has a significant impact.
“I had a really good paddle today. I wasn’t quite fortunate enough to actually witness Ant (Stott) swim, which would have been quite a laugh because it really is quite a rarity but overall it was a great day for me,” said Theron.
“Andy (Birkett) seemed to make a mistake early on which allowed me to make up ten seconds or so right at the start and from then I just seemed to get going nicely. Once Ant (Stott) and Andy (Birkett) got together though they really put the hammer down and they were soon out of sight.”
“Fortunately for me, bad luck for Andy (Birkett), he took a swim and then went wrong in another rapid and I was able to catch him,” he added.
With the experienced Stott and relentless young Birkett behind him Theron will undoubtedly have his work cut out for him on Sunday’s second stage and feels staying within sight of Stott as much as possible will be key.
“Today just showed that thirty seconds is not a lot of time but if saw the others ten times it was a lot. But when you do see the guy in front of you it definitely helps quite a bit so especially with tomorrow’s flatter sections being able to see Ant (Stott) will be important,” said Theron.
“It should be a nice race tomorrow though. It will be hard to keep a guy like Andy (Birkett) off and if boats get together then it really will be interesting,” he added.
For the young triple Dusi champion it was a day of frustration. However the team Best 4 Kayak Centre star still emerged from the water beaming his trademark smile and raving about how much fun he had out on the water.
“Ah man, what a lekker race. It really was awesome,” said Birkett. “The Lowveld Croc has always been about making the fewest mistakes, or if you do then it’s about how you recover from them which Ant (Stott) did brilliantly today.”
“Obviously I was a bit disappointed to have had a couple swims today but I was just so chuffed to have had such a cool time on the river,” he added.
Former sprint sensation, but no stranger to the river, Mike Arthur produce the surprise result of the day when he glided across the line in a solid fourth position and will go into day two with an outside chance of sneaking onto the podium.
“It’s my first race in a while and I haven’t been training at all but I didn’t make any mistakes at all and I went really well until about five kilometres before the finish when I ran out of gas,” said Arthur.
“I had a swim at the same place Andy (Birkett) did and he finished some way in front of me which just shows he’s definitely a lot stronger than I am so it would a tough ask to get onto the podium but who knows.”
“I was hoping for a top five coming into the race and anything can happen tomorrow but it’s just nice to be back on the river again and it’s an awesome river to back into things on as well,” he added.
The women’s race began in dramatic fashion as firm pre-race favourite Jen Theron was the first to come unstuck at the race’s opening obstacle just ten meters from the start, however a quick recovery and a determined effort by the in-form former Olympian saw he grind herself back into a commendable eighteenth place overall and a commanding eleventh and a half minute lead over second placed Debbie Germiquet.
“That swim early on was obviously super embarrassing and I’m sure the TV guys will enjoy showing it over and over again but in the end it probably actually helped just settle my nerves a bit because I was really nerves at the start this morning,” said Theron.
“I had another two silly little swims later on but they didn’t cost me too much time and overall I just really enjoyed the river. It was at the perfect level and I had such a good time,” she added.
With World Marathon Champs taking place in Rome this weekend some of the country’s top female paddlers were unable to make the trip up for this year’s event leaving Theron as a lone soul to fly the ladies’ flag and fly it she did.
“It’s obviously disappointing not have more of the top girls here because I really think the race would have been on after today but I just really enjoy this race and its awesome to see so many guys from KZN and out of town making the trip up,” said Theron.
“Tomorrow I’ll try just race the guys around me but it’s by no means a done deal especially with some of the sneaky rapids at the end of day two,” she added.
Day two takes place on Sunday and takes paddlers from Weltevreden bridge to above Montrose Falls.
Summary of results:
1.Ant Stott 1.53.50
2.Jacques Theron 1.55.28
3.Andy Birkett 1.58.21
4.Mike Arthur 1.59.57
5.Mark Smith 2.00.23
6.Shaun Griffin 2.01.50
7.Piers Cruickshanks 2.02.46
8.Carl Folscher 2.04.49
9.Roger Mortlock 2.04.57
10.Gavin Shuter 2.05.24
11.Gustav Smook 2.05.45
12.Adrian Bam 2.06.11
13.Murray Haw 2.08.15
14.Anthony Baird 2.11.08
15.Damon Stamp 2.12.26
16.Gerhard Nel 2.13.06
17.John Barrow 2.13.24
18.Jen Theron 2.13.26
19.Gerhard Steyn 2.14.07
20.Gavin Tarr 2.14.08Women
1.Jen Theron 2.13.26
2.Debbie Germiquet 2.24.59
3.Janet Bartlet 3.18.50