Windhoek Berg River canoe marathon gets underway tomorrow
The 49th edition of the Windhoek Berg River canoe marathon gets under way in Paarl on Wednesday morning, with the organisers assuring paddlers of perfect racing conditions for the tricky first stage through the thick tree blocks from Paarl to Zonquasdrift.
After a weekend of rain over the Peninsula which has raised the water level in the river to a moderate level, race bosses have confirmed a water release from the new Berg River Dam above Paarl that will erase the possibility of starting on a low river, and greatly ease the problems created by trees blocks on the first stage.
“Conditions should be just about perfect,” said race committee chair Andre Collins. “This level should enable paddlers to get through most of the tree blocks without having to get out of their boats.”
Collins did confirm that a recce of the final stage into Velddrif revealed a water hyacinth block that would necessitate a 100 metre long portage in the vicinity of the Berg River Station. “But we will race the full distance of the final stage, there will be no shortening of the leg by starting below the hyacinth bock,” said Collins.
The race has attracted a strong elite field, spearheaded by Durban ace and defending champ Hank McGregor who is setting out to win his seventh Berg title, which will make him the most successful paddler in the race’s history. He currently shares the record number of six victories with the Gauteng based 90s “King of the Berg” Robbie Herreveld.
However McGregor is well aware that the nature of the local challenge from the strong Western Cape elite racers will be very different to the last few years. Senior pro Graeme Solomon has been sidelined by commitments to the national team headed for the world marathon champs later in the year, leaving the Cape young Turks free to stage their own assault on Fortress McGregor.
Topping that list is Lance King, who finished second last year, and at one stage showed his hand in a strong solo break that, while it ultimately backfired, showed that he has the tenacity and tactical wherewithal to seriously challenge for the race title.
Add to that mix the likes of Pierre-Andre Rabie, who has won most of the key indicator races in the build-up to the Windhoek Berg, and the class of Heinrich Schloms, and the pressure on McGregor’s reign may well come from a number of different quarters.
The women’s race however is quite different. Second year Maties student Robyn Kime holds all the cards, particularly as her closest adversary on this river Lindi-May Harmsen is also ruled out due to world marathon champs obligations.
Watch for pressure coming from a number of emerging local stars, including Jemma Hofmeyr, and the gutsy Durbanite Donna Winter, who brings a fitness base honed on the Durban winter surfski racing circuit.
Kime comes into the race slightly underdone, having been swamped with a months work experience during the long June and July holidays. “I haven’t been able to train as much as I would have liked, and have not done as much tripping and racing on the river as I did last year,” the engineering student said.
The race includes legendary adventure racer Riaan Mancer, better known for his cycle around Africa and more recently his kayak trip around Madagascar. Mancer will be thrilled as the river conditions look to be forgiving. He openly concedes to being a novice on the river and says he has plenty to learn on the 228km journey from Paarl to Velddrif.
Also in the field are the two record holders for the most races, Andre Collins and Giel van Deventer. Both have finished 40 of the 48 previous editions of this famous race, and both start fit and well trained to add another to their impressive shared record.