Hank McGregor romped to another national canoeing title in Upington on Saturday when he broke away from a three boat bunch 8km from the finish to win the first stage of the Orange Descent.
Racing on good water levels and in hot Northern Cape weather, the 42-year-old, 11-time world champion drove the lead group on the 26km opening stage from Keimoes to Kakemas with his Durban training partner Hamish Lovemore and Underberg speedster Stew Little.
At the portage around the massive Neus weir, McGregor put in a strong run on the 300m section that takes the paddlers to a unique 1.3km paddle down a fast-flowing canal, dropping Lovemore.
Once back in the river McGregor shook off the challenge of Under-23 Varsity College racer Little and then fired the afterburners to race away to the finish unchallenged.
“This must be one of the only river races in South Africa that I have never done before, so I was racing blind, which was really strange, because we never got time to trip the river beforehand,” said McGregor.
Lovemore managed to reel in Little and then overtake him to secure the second place, and with it the Canoeing South Africa silver medal, as the first leg was deciding the SA K1 River Champs for 2020.
The win means McGregor adds the SA K1 river title to the national single and double ski titles and SA K2 flatwater marathon that he won last month.
“That’s four national titles for the year, which is pretty cool. 2020 started out pretty poorly but it is ending well for me,” the Team Euro Steel star added.
Lovemore’s win at the flatwater marathon in St Francis last month is the only title to have eluded McGregor this year and the elusive clean-sweep of SA crowns thus far, with the final title of the year, the SA K2 river championships, being decided on the final stage of the Orange Descent on Sunday.
Clint Cook was the quickest of the six-boat chasing pack and he claimed fourth position, with defending Orange Descent champ Thulani Mbanjwa a distant ninth.
Cape stalwart Melanie Van Niekerk was head-and-shoulders the best female paddler on the water and was full value for her comfortable win over Tracey Oellerman.
The 28km second stage from Upington to Oranjerus has a larger percentage of flatwater, which will suit the cut-and-thrust of typical K2 marathon racing tactics, but there are challenges at Raaswater and Oukamp rapids and a new chute down the weir 5km from the finish.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
1.Hank McGregor 1:32:31
2.Hamish Lovemore 1:34:46
3.Stew Little 1:35:23
4.Clint Cook 1:37:32
5.Alan Houston 1:37:35
6.Wayne Jacobs 1:37:38
7.Nqobile Makhanya 1:37:49
8.Bongani Ntinga 1:38:01
9.Thulani Mbanjwa 1:39:17
10.Msawenkosi Mtolo 1:39:23
1.Melanie van Niekerk 1:51:47
2.Tracey Oellerman 2:01:08
3.Christina Geromont 2:27:32