Euro Steel's Andy Birkett took advantage of a few mistakes by Hank McGregor to take home stage one of the 2018 N3TC Drak Challenge on Saturday. Photo: Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media

JOHANNESBURG   Andy Birkett and Robyn Owen claimed the respective men's and ladies spoils of the 2018 N3T Drak Challenge on Saturday, on a day of drama and incidents that moulded the final overnight leaderboard.

The fickle weather left the uMzimkulu River running very low, forcing the organisers to shorten day one of the event.

The racing was white hot off the line at Sinister Pools, the usual day one finish, as Birkett and long-time rival and now FNB Dusi partner Hank McGregor managed to get away from the rest of the field and take control of the majority of the 19km first stage on their own.

It was predicted to be a two-horse race and it was shaping up to be an exciting finish, until McGregor made an error which opened the door for Birkett to take the lead and he hammered the advantage home to win by two minutes.

"It's always awesome racing against Hank, now that we are racing Dusi together it adds a little bit of a different dynamic," Euro Steel's Birkett said after his stage win.

As Birkett hunts a fifth consecutive Drak title, Euro Steel/Kayak Centre's McGregor will be hoping that day two can go his way and he can make up that two minute gap. It was a tough second half for McGregor who paid the price for a few trivial errors as he pushed the pace to catch Birkett.

McGregor holds a slender six second advantage over the charging Lance Kime, but the two have a solid two minute buffer over the wily Ant Stott in fourth with Johannesburg's Siseko Ntondini rounding out the top five.

The ladies contest is set for a thrilling finale on Sunday with 2013 champion Owen and Jenna Ward finishing one second apart at the end of the first stage.

Owen, who is currently prepping for the Coast2Coast adventure race in New Zealand, has been paddling a fair amount and is using the Drak Challenge as part of her build up to the race next month.

"I have been training hard for the Coast2Coast but this is perfect training for the event," Owen said at the finish at Callaway on Saturday.

"In the low river I can get away with being a little less fit than I should be for the Drak."

Stage two of the 2018 N3TC Drak Challenge will take paddlers from Callaway Bridge to the finish at Hopewell Farm close to the Coleford Resort. 

More information can be found at www.drak.co.za.

Stage one results:

Overall

1.Andy Birkett 1:23:05

2.Hank McGregor 1:25:04

3.Lance Kime 1:25:10

4.Ant Stott 1:27:26

5.Siseko Ntondini 1:27:28

6.Carl Folscher 1:27:46

7.Sbonelo Khwela 1:27:55

8.Alan Houston (U23) 1:29:45

9.Andrew Houston 1:29:47

10.Stewart Little (U23) 1:30:05

11.Grant van der Walt 1:31:07

12.Adrian Boros (HUN) 1:31:08

13.Maswenkosi Mtolo (U23) 1:31:12

14.Mmeli Cele 1:31:50

15.David Evans (U18) 1:31:51

Women

1.Robyn Owen 1:35:26

2.Jenna Ward 1:35:27

3.Cana Peek (U23) 1:39:12

4.Bridgitte Hartley 1:39:35

5.Christie Mackenzie (U23) 1:39:37

Under 23 Men

1.Alan Houston 1:29:45

2.Stewart Little 1:30:05

3.Maswenkosi Mtolo 1:31:12

Under 23 Women

1.Cana Peek 1:39:12

2.Christie Mackenzie 1:39:37

Under 18 Boys

1.David Evans 1:31:51

2.Hamish Mackenzie 1:32:04

3.Kelly Tarr 1:38:12

Under 18 Girls

1.Cara Waud 1:50:45

2.Amy Peckett 1:50:57

3.Tracy Oellermann 1:59:07 

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