Wednesday, 22 July 2015 09:12

Jeep Team's Hank McGregor Claims Record-Breaking 10th Berg River Win

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Jeep Team's Hank McGregor becomes the first person in history to win 10 Berg River titles

Jeep Team’s Hank McGregor cemented his status as a South African paddling legend on Saturday, 18 July, when he won the 2015 Berg River Canoe Marathon, becoming the first person in the race’s 54 year history to win 10 Berg titles.

The multiple world champion paddler last won the Berg in 2012, missing the 2013 race due to a clash with the surfski world championships, and again in 2014 for the birth of his son, Thorsten.

McGregor’s mighty comeback saw him dominate the 240km four-day race from start to finish, winning Tuesday’s (14 July) time trial and leading the four stages thereafter.The only prizes that evaded the Jeep Team star were the third and fourth stage bridge prizes.

Said McGregor at the finish line in Velddrif, Western Cape, “To win one Berg River is something special; to win ten is something everyone only ever dreams of doing and I’m sure it will only really sink in, in a couple of weeks’ time.”  “I definitely think this was one of the toughest Bergs ever, especially yesterday, but it’s a pearler of a day today and today was one of the best paddles I’ve ever had,” he added.

Considered the world’s toughest river marathon, this year’s raceturned even more treacherous due to freezing temperatures and severely low water levels, which led race organisers to move the start on Wednesday, 15 July,45km downstream to Hermon Bridge (only the second time in the race’s 54-year history that the start has not been in Paarl).

McGregor’s bid for a 10th title after winning the race in 2000 and again for eight consecutive years between 2005 and 2012 got off to a great start as he clinched the Stage 1 win ahead of defending champion Andrew Birkett in 2nd and Spain’s Kiko Vega in 3rd.

Said McGregor, “The water level definitely made it a lot harder, jumping in an out of our boats like a rabbit for the first forty minutes was really tough and there were a lot more obstacles in the river than normal.It was also super cold – this morning was one of the coldest mornings I’ve ever started at the Berg – while the lack of water flow made it a long first day on the water.”

Thursday’s Stage 2 covered the same stretch of river as Stage 1, with paddlers racing a slightly shorter route from Zonquasdrift to Bridgetown. McGregor’s race began with a three minute advantage due to his Stage 1 victory. Heheld onto the overall lead, but not without difficulty.

Said McGregor, “It was quite hard starting on my own today and never quite knowing just how hard I was needing to go. When you’re on your own your mind plays games with you and while trying to remember where I went yesterday, I unfortunately made some silly mistakes. But I’m just glad to have gotten here in one piece and I’m still leading so I couldn’t be happier.”

As the longest of the four days, Stage 3 is the most physically demanding, with paddlers racing 75km from Bridgetown to Zoutkloof. Add to this freezing cold temperatures, scattered rain showers and gale force winds, and day 3turned into a mental and physical endurance test, with even the race’s top elite paddlers turning all of their attention towards survival.

Despite his lead, McGregor wasn’t about to surrender any of his hard-fought advantages, edging out Birkett in the day’s final sprint while Vega and the Czech Republic’s Jakub Adam finished a few seconds later.

On finishing, McGregor spared a thought for those paddlers still out on the river up against the elements, “When we passed some of the back markers early on I just felt sorry for them because I think there are going to be guys with hyperthermia this afternoon!” he said. “We took nearly six hours so I’d hate to know how long the guys at the back are going to be out there for!”

Thankfully, the weather conditions for Saturday’s final 60 km stage, from Zoutkloof to the West Coast fishing village of Velddrif, had improved tremendously, with the sunshine out to welcome paddlers home.

McGregor headed into day 4 with a two and a half minute lead, and was one of nine paddlers to form a break-away group before the portage at Oordraplek. An hour to the finish, McGregor then surged ahead of the group, with only three paddlers – Birkett, Graeme Solomon and Jakub Adam - able to keep up.

With a kilometre to go and the title all but decided McGregor thanked the three others for the company throughout the race before charging to the finish line ahead of Birkett to complete his Berg fairytale in an overall time of 18h41m52.33s.

Said McGregor, “I first went down a stretch of this river when I was six years old and from then on I always wanted to win the Berg one day. “My wife Pippa has supported me the whole way and I couldn’t have done it without her and maybe one day my son Thorsten will come paddle the Berg; for now though this one’s for us. “I don’t know if I’ll be back but there’s something about this race that seems to keep drawing me back – probably because it’s the toughest race in the world.”

Other Jeep Team news…

Obstacle Course Racing
Jeep Team welcomes its newest athlete to the OCR team, JoshuaMasudi. This weekend, Masudi competed in and won the Commando Elite (20 Obstacles - 10km)event at Race#5 of the Jeep Warrior Series, which took place at Sugar Rush Adventure Park in Ballito from 18 – 19 July.

Jeep Team’s Thomas van Tonder, Jay JayDeysel and Dominique D'Oliveira competed in the Warrior Race’sBlacks Ops Elite category (30 Obstacles - 16km), with D'Oliveira claiming 3nd in the Women’s race in 2h05m30s, behind first-placed Hanneke Dannhauser and Jetaime Ribbink in 2nd. Van Tonder and Deysel finished 4th and 7th respectively in the Men’s category.

On Saturday, 18 July, Jeep Team’s Dylan Rebello and Michael Lord competed in the 2015 Stihl SA MTB XCO Championships, which took place in Stellenbosch, Western Cape.

Rebello claimed a podium finish in the U23 race, placing 3rd in 1h20m30s, behind first-placed GertHeyns (1h16m51s) and Arno du Toit in 2nd (1h17m52s). While not strictly an MTB athlete, Lord managed an impressive 7th place finish in the Men’s U23 race.

Published in Sports Range

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