Johannesburg – Andy Birkett snatched his maiden title at the N3TC Drakensberg Challenge Canoe Marathon on Sunday, exploiting a mistake by triple champ Hank McGregor in the closing stages of the race, while Abby Adie won her fourth women's title.
Racing on a low uMzimkulu River in Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal, Birkett and McGregor started the 23km final stage from Callaway Bridge to Hopewell Farm side by side.
The pair challenged each other through the final stage, but were locked together as they entered the Lower Gorge, just 20 minutes from the finish.
McGregor raced to the bottom of Mkhulu Rapid where he got stuck on some rocks, while Birkett took another line and managed to get a 50 metre lead on McGregor.
“For the next two kilometres I looked back over my shoulder at every corner and every rapid to see if Hank (McGregor) was chasing me,” Birkett said in a statement on Sunday.
“Only when I realised that he had given up the chase did I start thinking about the fact that I might win the title.
“I am really stoked with the win because it helps me prove to myself that my paddling is improving, and that I can mix it up with McGregor and the flatwater marathon paddlers.”
Defending champion Grant van der Walt grabbed the last spot on the podium from K1 Dusi champ and top Under 23 Lance Kime, with Len Jenkins holding off the gutsy visiting Australian Josh Kippen for the fifth place.
Damon Stamp was in a class of his own as he romped to a comfortable win in the junior boys ranks.
The women's title fell for a fourth time to Abby Adie, who got engaged on the weekend to her boyfriend Kyle Solms.
“I started in elapsed time and Robyn (Kime) was in the first batch, which made it very difficult to keep track on where she was relative to me,” said Adie.
Adie can now turn her full attention to her bid for the 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon title, as her partner Ana Adamova arrived back in South Africa for the final run-in to the big race in February.
Kime won the silver medal with Michelle Burn racing consistently to grab to third step on the podium, with fifth placed Jenna Ward taking home the Under 23 gold medal. – Sapa