Underberg - The 2017 N3TC Drak Challenge got
underway in misty, rainy conditions on Saturday but the racing at the front
of the field was white hot as Hank McGregor won an end sprint to the line
against Andy Birkett while Abby Solms laid down a significant marker when she
powered to yet another stage win at the Swartberg Road Bridge.
As expected McGregor and Birkett got away from the rest of the field in the
early stages of the day and they were unstoppable from there matching each
other stroke for stroke right until the finish where McGregor got his nose in
front towards the end and turned that into a one second advantage.
"The top section is always tricky and it can cost you if you break your
boat or your paddle," Euro Steel/Kayak Centre's McGregor said after the
"We managed to get away early and we both know where we are going on the
river so it is quite hard to make a mistake unless you really have a lapse in
"I managed to get ahead of him in the last two kilometres and hold him off
in the end sprint so I am really happy with the stage win," he added.
With only a second advantage going into the final day it is going to be a tough
final stage of the race and with a big push needed from both paddlers McGregor
feels that it is going to be difficult to shrug off Birkett but he feels that
he is in a strong position to win a race he hasn't won since 2012.
"Anything can happen tomorrow but Andy knows where he is going and he has
won this race a couple of times so it is definitely not over until we get
across the finish line tomorrow.
"I definitely didn't
expend all my energy today because you never know when you are going to make a
mistake and you might need that energy to catch up," a conservative
After a tough day of racing Euro Steel's Andy Birkett was happy with his stage
one performance and having been out of action for a while showed his class at
the front end of the field in good river conditions.
"I’m feeling good after today and it has been a while since I did any
racing so I am happy that I can still paddle at a reasonable pace," he
said with a smile at the stage one finish.
"We tested each other quite a bit in the top section which burnt a bit so
I wouldn't say it was a conservative approach today.
"The water level is a little bit higher than last year which means it is a
bit more forgiving and beggars can't be choosers and it was still great fun out
there. It was quite challenging and you have to look sharp and pick your lines
Euro Steel's Abby Solms showed her class and prowess on the uMzimkhulu River
when she dominated the ladies field to record the sixteenth fastest time of the
stage and take a two minute advantage into the final stage.
"Today I had to push so hard, it was basically a time trial from start to
finish," Solms commented.
"We've never had Bridgitte (Hartley) racing so well and she is such a
strong paddler so tomorrow is going to be super hard work but I am looking
forward to it.
"It is really nice having such a strong women's field and we were talking
about it on the start line saying we have never had this many girls entering
Drak so it is great that we have such a strong field!"
Hartley, who was only taking part in her second Drak Challenge, was slightly
apprehensive going into the first stage of the race but the Olympic bronze
medallist was happy with her performance.
"I could see Abby most of the way from the start but when I got stuck
behind some paddlers I lost her but once I was through Black Murray I knew that
I could push to the end because the biggest obstacle for the day was done.
"I was hoping that I could close the gap on
Abby towards the end but I am not unhappy with my race," Hartley added
with a smile.
One of the performances of the day came from Hilton College pupil Hamish
Lovemore who finished the day in fourth place overall just behind Owen Gandar.
Lovemore's elder brother Tom currently leads the Under 23 category just ahead
of Murray Starr and Alan Houston in third.
In the ladies race, Euro Steel's Jenna Ward is third just under two minutes
ahead of a pack that includes Kyeta Purchase, Kerry Segal and Under 18 star
SUMMARY OF RESULTS - N3TC DRAK CHALLENGE
1.Hank McGregor 1:31.28
2.Andy Birkett 1:31.29
3.Owen Gandar 1:32.59
4.Hamish Lovemore (U18) 1:32.59
5.Carl Folscher 1:34.14
6.Thulani Mbanjwa 1:34.15
7.Jacques Theron 1:34.16
8.Siseko Ntondini 1:34.17
9.Thomas Lovemore (U23) 1:35.12
10.Murray Starr (U23) 1:35.13
11.Simon van Gysen 1:35.14
12.Banetse Nkhoesa 1:35.15
13.Alan Houston (U23) 1:35.42
14.Clinton Cook 1:37.10
15.Tyron Maher (U23) 1:37.11
1.Abby Solms 1:37.54
2.Bridgitte Hartley 1:39.59
3.Jenna Ward 1:47.57
4.Kyeta Purchase (U23) 1:49.40
5.Kerry Segal (U23) 1:49.41
6.Christie Mackenzie (U18) 1:49.42
7.Donna Tutton 1:49.52
8.Tamika Haw 1:51.43
9.Jen Theron 1:51.44
10.Jane Swarbreck 1:54.49
Under 23 Men
1.Thomas Lovemore 1:35.12
2.Murray Starr 1:35.13
3.Alan Houston 1:35.42
4.Tyron Maher 1:37.11
5.Travis Wilson 1:38.37
Under 23 Women
1.Kyeta Purchase 1:49.40
2.Kerry Segal 1:49.41
Under 18 Boys
1.Hamish Lovemore 1:32.59
2.Alex Masina 1:38.29
3.Stewart Little 1:38.32
Under 18 Girls
1.Christie Mackenzie 1:49.42
Under 16 Boys
1.Hamish Mackenzie 1:38.31
2.David Evans 1:41.33