Zoutkloof — Defending Champion Hank McGregor is just one stage away from claiming his 13th Berg River Marathon title, but the fight for second looks likely to go down to the final sprint at Velddrif on Saturday.
In the long 75km stage from Bridgetown to Zoutkloof on Friday, the four leaders broke away after the portage around the Misverstand Dam Wall about 16km into the stage, and then worked together to build a gap on the chasers. McGregor crossed the line third, but just a second behind Thomas Lovemore and Jeremy Maher, with David Evans a second further back.
The stage result means McGregor comfortably maintains a two-minute, 26-second lead over Lovemore, with Maher only being relegated to third on the basis of split seconds as they finished each of the opening three stages together.
Evans is comfortable in fourth with some tight battles taking place further down the top ten with former winner Jacques Theron and surfski ace Kenny Rice within a second of each other in the fight for fifth, and the same applies to Ant Lake and Daniel Jacobs in their showdown for seventh.
In the women’s race, the positions were consolidated on Day 3 as Christy Shrimpton added another 11 minutes to her already big overnight lead and now has a 24-minute cushion, while second-placed Bianca Beavitt added more time to her advantage and leads third-placed Ansune Basson by just over an hour.
With just the final 57km stage into Velddrif remaining on Saturday, it seems certain the women’s positions are secure and it would take a major drama to alter the women’s podium.
The men’s winner also looks to be secure and only a massive upset – on the scale of a long swim, broken equipment or illness – can derail McGregor’s attempt to add another South African title and Berg River Marathon trophy to an already impressive list of accolades.
“Just like the first day we had a four boat bunch again,” said Lovemore after crossing the line. “At the dam I think we all had the same idea and we ran as hard as we could and got in together at the bottom and that set us up for a really good day.
“We then sort of spoke amongst ourselves and once we had made it to a group we decided we would share the pulls. But when you get toward the end you start wondering if everybody is going to stick to their word, but they all did and we had a great end sprint at the finish.”
The stage winner was thankful for the relatively benign conditions on the day – but concerned about Saturday.
“We were expecting a lot of wind and rain, but we had the most incredible conditions for most of the day, and we were really protected down on the river. Right towards the end we did get a little taste of what is in store tomorrow and it looks like it will be brutal. Tomorrow we have a big storm on the way with lots of wind and rain and it is truly going to be a Day 4 to remember.
“I think Hank is sitting really comfortably and just needs to sit with us. He is good enough to get away on his own, so I do not think there is much chance of beating him,” added Lovemore with a wry smile.
DAY 3: Leading Results
(with overall and daily stage times)
1 Hank McGregor 12:49:23 (4:12:18, 3:13:53, 5:23:11)
2 Thomas Lovemore 12:51:39 (4:12:17, 3:16:12, 5:23:10)
3 Jeremy Maher 12:51:40 (4:12:15, 3:16:13, 5:23:10)
4 David Evans 12:56:19 (4:12:18, 3:20:48, 5:23:12)
5 Jacques Theron 13:15:48 (4:18:03, 3:29:15, 5:28:29)
6 Kenny Rice 13:15:48 (4:18:04, 3:29:15, 5:28:28)
7 Ant Lake 13:19:16 (4:18:02, 3:32:46, 5:28:27)
8 Daniel Jacobs 13:19:16 (4:18:04, 3:32:44, 5:28:27)
9 Dyllan Farrell 13:28:45 (4:27:02, 3:35:50, 5:28:29)
10 Heinrich Schloms 13:39:08 (4:23:54, 3:35:50, 5:39:24)
1 Christy Shrimpton 15:06:24 (4:53:12, 4:00:46, 6:12:25)
2 Bianca Beavitt 15:30:29 (5:03:01, 4:04:06, 6:23:20)
3 Ansune Basson 16:31:29 (5:08:29, 4:32:55, 6:50:03)