Underberg - The competitive river racing year is set
to get underway in spectacular fashion, as a star-studded field of some of the worlds top river paddlers square up to one another, at the 2017 Drak Challenge in the Southern Drakensberg from 21-22
Into its 24th year, the 65km, two-day race has earned a reputation as one of
the most prized titles on the national circuit, and every year it attracts the
cream of the countries river racers.
Early in the new year the event was
awarded the KZN K1 River Championship status, adding even more weight to the
looming clash of the titans on the uMzimkhulu River.
Add to this the fact that the prestigious Dusi Canoe Marathon in the middle
of February is just a handful of weeks away, and there is plenty riding on the
popular stage race through the foothills of the Southern Drakensberg.
The race will see the elites battle it out for the KwaZulu-Natal K1 bragging
rights with the burgeoning rivalry between World Marathon champion Hank
McGregor and three-time defending Drak Challenge champion Andy Birkett set to
take centre stage over the two days.
Euro Steel/Kayak Centre's McGregor had to pull out after the first day in 2016
due to illness which curtailed what was panning out to be another enthralling
chapter in the Birkett v McGregor saga.
Euro Steel's Birkett won the race untouched and with it took his third
consecutive Drak title.
The race has historically set the stage for standout podium and top ten
performances, with Owen Gandar upstaging plenty of big guns to snatch an
impressive third last year, holding off the charging junior Jean van der
Westhuyzen who excelled in finishing fourth.
The ladies race has been dominated by Euro Steel's Abby Solms in recent years.
The teacher from Pietermaritzburg needs just one more victory to become the
most decorated winner of the race.
Despite Solms' dominance of the race in the past she has a relative novice
breathing down her neck in the form of Olympic bronze medallist and Euro Steel
team mate Bridgitte Hartley.
The former sprint ace has made the transition to
river paddling and has made it with ease.
Having won a race the Umpetha Challenge at the end of 2016 and showing her
diversity with two wins in the Surfski Series, Hartley's ability and
determination will test Solms to the limit.
With good water predicted for the race times are expected to be faster than in
previous years however the competition at the sharp end of the field suggests
that one slight error might cost you a spot in the top three.