Maritzburg Sun (South Africa)

Both champions raise the bar at Drak Challenge

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Andy Birkett won his eighth title at the iconic N3TC Drak Challenge canoe marathon in partnershi­p with FNB while Abby Solms marked her return to the two-day classic by winning her ninth women's title, in the process becoming the race's most decorated champion.

Birkett and Hank McGregor started the 39 kilometre final stage from Swartberg Bridge to Early Mist Farm together and for much of the testing stage on a full uMzimkhulu River the pair could not be separated.

Birkett budgeted tactically on the race ending in a sprint over the last few kilometres, and managed to shake off the tenacious McGregor with a tactical gamble in the closing stages, only to find that the race finish had been moved several hundred metres downstream,

"I timed my sprint to be able to get to where the finish normally is, and when I got there I looked around and there was nobody there!" said Birkett.

"Then I saw the tents further downstream and we had to shoot another big rapid to get there," said the Euro Steel star.

The full river forced

Birkett to adjust his strategies as he sought fast but safer lines through the big rapids.

"It is the first time I have not shot the Hell side of Heaven & Hell rapid and opted for the Heaven line instead, and that is where I managed to get a two boat length lead over Hank.

While Birkett shies away from the record that he extended by winning his eighth title, he was adamant that the race and the region it runs through means a lot to him.

Under 23 racer Dave

Evans wrapped up third ahead of a charging Banetse Nkhoesa and another Under 23 rising star Matt Millward rounding out the top five.

The women's race fell to overnight leader Abby Solms, who managed to hold off the concerted efforts of the chasers Christie Mackenzie and Jordy Peek.

Solm's win extends her run of victories at the race to nine, making her the race's most consistent­ly successful champion, which she attributes to her years of experience on the uMzimkhulu River at every possible river level.

With a significan­t overnight lead in the bank Solms turned to the male paddlers around her to keep the pace high, and her chasers at bay.

More informatio­n and results can be found at www. drakadvent­ure.co.za. Dave Macleod

 ?? ?? Euro Steel's Andy Birkett raced away to win his eighth title at the ¿nal stage of the N3TC Drak Challenge in partnershi­p with FNB on Sunday. Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media
Euro Steel's Andy Birkett raced away to win his eighth title at the ¿nal stage of the N3TC Drak Challenge in partnershi­p with FNB on Sunday. Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media
 ?? ?? Abby Solms won a ninth women’s title at the N3TC Drak Challenge in partnershi­p with FNB on Sunday. Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media
Abby Solms won a ninth women’s title at the N3TC Drak Challenge in partnershi­p with FNB on Sunday. Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media

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