Underberg - Andy Birkett bagged a fifth consecutive
win at the Drak Challenge on Sunday to equal Ant Stott's record for the
most overall race wins, racing away from his Dusi partner Hank McGregor in
a gruelling duel on the lowest river in the race's 25 year history.
Birkett started the day with a two minute lead over McGregor, thanks to a split
second incident in the Underberg Gorge on Saturday, and on the shortened 19km
final stage he ground away relentlessly to take his fifth title by almost three
and a half minutes.
"I was looking over my shoulder to see how far back Hank (McGregor)
was," said a delighted Birkett at the finish.
"In one of the long pools I was counting my strokes to try and work out
how far behind me he was. The gap stayed at around two minutes, but I think
Hank must have made a mistake or two because I managed to get ahead around the
Heaven and Hell rapid.
"It is probably better to be on your own when you are racing on a low
river because you can concentrate on picking your own lines," he added.
Birkett said that it had been a pleasure to be racing against the man he will
be partnering in the Dusi in a few weeks' time.
"It has been really nice racing against him, and training with him,"
Lance Kime was rock steady in third, as he had been for the entire race, while
Carl Folscher had a blinder on the final stage, leapfrogging up to fourth
The women's title race captivated the massive crowd that flocked into Underberg
for the weekend of paddling, trail running and mountain biking events.
Jenna Ward started the final stage from Callaway bridge to Hopewell Farm
alongside 2012 winner Robyn Owen, making a comeback to domestic river marathons
as part of her preparations for the upcoming Coast-To-Coast adventure race in
Ward and Owen slugged it out on the taxing low river, often duelling for the
prized slip on a bunch of male paddlers taking part in the race. Owen managed
to get the advantage of getting clear of Ward early on, but the tenacious Ward
ground back on her own.
Ward was then able to exploit a similar opportunity later in the race to get
clear of Owen, and then concentrated on not making any mistakes in the Lower
Gorge to claim the women's title to go with her Berg and Fish titles.
"It's taken me ten years to finally with the Drak!" she gushed at the
"It was just a matter of focussing on your own race because there were so
many rapids that you could get stuck in. If you lost concentration it would
have been over," she explained.
"I got stuck behind one of the guys in one of the rapids at the top and
Robyn managed to pull away from me. I thought my race was over but it took two
kilometres of hard paddling to catch back up.
"Then another group of guys came past us and I managed to get onto their
wave and she didn't. That gave me a hundred metres gap and I pretty much kept
that down to the finish.
"Those are the opportunities that you have to take advantage of,"
She added that women's canoeing was enjoying a boom, with a large number of
female athletes contesting every major paddling event.
"It was super to have Robyn back with us, it is so great for the sport,
and makes the event so much more exciting for everyone," she said.
Ward added that the win was a massive confidence booster going into the final
few weeks of the build-up to the Dusi next month.
"This was really the first time that I could judge myself against the
other girls, because I have been racing mixed doubles while I am waiting for my
Dusi partner Vandi Kizsli to arrive from Hungary," said Ward.
Maties student Alan Houston topped off his birthday weekend by winning the U23 men's crown, while in the under-23 women Christie Mackenzie was the strongest
paddler in the tough low river and managed to edged ahead of Cana Peek on the
final stage to take the top honours.
The junior boys trophy was won by Maritzburg College's David Evans, while
Epworth's Cara Waud took the girls equivalent from a highly competitive field
Drak Challenge Stage Two - Results:
1 Andy Birkett 1:21:18.69 2:44:24.35
2 Hank McGregor 1:22:41.13 2:47:45.73
3 Lance Kime 1:24:40.66 2:49:51.13
4 Carl Folscher 1:23:36.23 2:51:22.59
5 Siseko Ntondini 1:24:16.73 2:51:44.88
6 Sbonelo Khwela 1:23:50.16 2:51:46.04
7 Ant Stott 1:24:34.15 2:52:01.02
8 Alan Houston 1:25:31.84 2:55:17.36
9 Andrew Houston 1:25:31.38 2:55:18.57
10 Msawenkosi Mtolo 1:25:55.17 2:57:07.69
11 Adrian Boros 1:26:15.50 2:57:23.90
12 Stewart Little 1:27:29.39 2:57:35.07
13 Banetse Nkhoesa 1:25:06.26 2:58:20.73
14 Jason Graham 1:25:51.11 2:58:21.43
15 David Evans 1:28:41.44 3:00:32.89
16 Mmeli Cele 1:30:45.70 3:02:36.50
17 Brandon Van Der Walt 1:27:14.18 3:02:42.26
18 Loveday Zondi 1:30:57.73 3:04:24.83
19 Nqobile Makhanya 1:28:46.61 3:04:25.50
20 Craig Heenan 1:29:35.14 3:04:52.83
1.Jenna Ward 1:33:42.93 3:09:10.50
2.Robyn Owen 1:35:09.98 3:10:36.60
3.Bridgitte Hartley 1:36:46.77 3:16:21.79
4.Christie Mackenzie (U23) 1:36:45.27 3:16:23.03
5.Cana Peek (U23) 1:39:25.50 3:18:38.32
1.Alan Houston 1:29:45
2.Stewart Little 1:30:05
3.Maswenkosi Mtolo 1:31:12
1.Christie Mackenzie 1:36:45.27 3:16:23.03
2.Cana Peek 1:39:25.50 3:18:38.32
3.Jordan Peek 1:48:32.16 3:35:52.24
1.David Evans 1:28:41.44 3:00:32.89
2.Hamish Mackenzie 1:34:13.84 3:06:17.98
3.Sam Butcher 1:34:15.47 3:13:08.63
1.Cara Waud 1:47:07.84 3:37:53.82
2.Amy Peckett 1:46:56.77 3:37:53.97
3.Cayleigh Shaw 1:51:26.34 3:50:39.31