Defending champions Graeme Solomon and Hungarian Adrián Boros had to fight back from a disastrous mishap halfway through the 62km first stage to take full control of the Berg River Canoe Marathon on the first stage on Wednesday.
Starting on a very full river swollen by two days of heavy rain in the catchment area, six teams settled into a fast-packed bunch for the first hour of the race, skirting around the low level bridge at Skooltjie that was deemed a hazard in the full river conditions.
Solomon and Boros were under pressure from youngsters Alan Houston and Stew Little, and the crew of Hamish Lovemore and Tyron Maher, as well as the international pairing of Czech Petr Mojžíšek and German Matthias Schmidt, but looked to have control of the lead bunch.
However Solomon lead the front teams into a dead-end channel in the river which saw them tumble from race leaders to around twelfth and scrambling to locate the quickest route back into the fast-flowing river.
“Everything was going according to plan and then we got into this tree-block situation with two of the other guys. It looked like a tree had washed into a section of other trees,” said Solomon.
“Suddenly we found ourselves in twelfth, and that is when Adrian decided to really pick up the pace and catch everyone,” he said.
Their charge back to the front was spectacular, aided by drama at Klei Rapid where the swollen river saw two of the lead bunch, Paul Marais and Alan Houston, take swims, and allowing Mojžíšek and Schmidt to break away alone at Blou Porselein.
Boros and Solomon ground relentlessly through the field and once they got back to the front they kept the bit between their teeth to earn an impressive seventy second lead over Lovemore and Maher, with Simon van Gysen and Paul Marais racing well to secure third overnight.
“The thing about racing on a full river is that it is so tiring because you are pulling against much bigger resistance,” said Solomon.
“It is very difficult to actually break away on a full river,” he added. “At the halfway mark I thought we were going to finish with bunch of eight paddlers.”
Seasoned locals Heinrich Schloms and Louw Van Riet wrapped up fourth ahead of Mojžíšek and Schmidt.
The women’s race is lead by the solitary women’s team entry of Tracy Oellerman and Melissa van Rooyen, but the spotlight fell on former Berg women’s singles winner Bianca Beavitt who slipped in an eleventh hour entry as a solo paddler.
She raced with Evan Knight and Crispin Thompson at the front of the solo paddlers race, and ended the first stage in 14th overall.
While the full river attracted a number of last minute entries, there was also the withdrawal of Berg icon Edgar Boehm, who holds the record for most number of consecutive Berg finishes.
Boehm is nursing a broken rib and reluctantly had to opt out of his bid for a 46th Berg medal on the trot.
The paddlers overtook most of the floodwater during the first stage, but this is sure to be a factor again on the 46km second stage from Zonquasdrift to Bridgetown at the headwaters of Misverstand dam on Thursday.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
DAY ONE BERG RIVER CANOE MARATHON
1.Graeme Solomon/Adrian Boros 3:52:42
2.Tyron Maher/Hamiswh Lovemore 3:53:53
3.Simon van Gysen/Paul Marais 3:54:53
4.Heinrich Schloms/Louw van Riet 3:55:42
5.Petr Mojžíšek/Matthias Schmidt 3:57:24
6.Zachery Preyser/Bartho Visser 3:57:37
7.Alan Houston/Stewart Little 4:00:28
8.Anders Hart/Andrew Mowlem 4:02:07
9.Jermaine Pietersen/Luke Stowman 4:03:36
10.Khumbulani Nzimande/Siyanda Gwamanda 4:04:23
1.Tracy Oellerman/Melissa van Rooyen
1.Evan Knight 4:09:20
2.Bianca Beavitt 4:09:21 (1st woman)
3.Crispin Thompson 4:09:23
4.Pieter-Willem Basson 4:16:15
5.Pieter Englebrecht 4:17:59