Stage one of the 2017 Fish River Canoe Marathon ended in a stalemate with the men’s and women’s races dishing up a spectacle right to the finish as Stuart Maclaren and French star Cyrille Carre, and Bridgitte Hartley and her Serbian partner Krisztina Bedec, take the slightest of leads into the second and final stage on Saturday.
The guaranteed water release from the Grassridge Dam draws paddlers in their thousands to the Fish River Canoe Marathon every year and the big water and technical paddling is what often determines the difference when the crews reach the Cradock Sports Complex on Saturday.
The pair of Maclaren and Carre were the surprise package of the day, matching the defending champions Greg Louw and Andy Birkett stroke-for-stroke, and then shading them in the final sprint to earn them the stage victory.
“I have never been in this position in my life before [leading the Fish River Canoe Marathon],” Maclaren mentioned after their stage win. “Cyrille was incredible in the back of the boat and despite this being his first big river race he was so strong.
“We are not putting any pressure on ourselves going into tomorrow, we have got nothing to lose but you can be sure that we are going to put Andy and Greg under a lot of pressure!”
Having spent very little time in a boat together in the lead up to this Fish, Maclaren wasn’t worried about that that could impact on their performance over the two days.
“We didn’t have a lot of time in the boat together but the time that we did have together in the lead up was really good. The boat went smoothly and I knew that when we got here we just had to make sure that we avoided making any mistakes.
“I knew if we could get through the big stuff with the bunch then we could go to work on the flat water and put the rest of the guys under a bit of pressure,” he mentioned.
Through most of the stage there was a group of three boats on the front with Murray Starr and Hungarian marathon powerhouse Adrian Boros’ boat making up the trio, however the pace got a bit too much for Starr and Boros and they fell off the back and finished in third one-and-a-half-minutes behind the leaders.
Despite not winning the stage, the smart money might still be on the defending champions who have the experience of being at the front of a big race and Louw was happy with their open stage outing.
“It was a good day for us today despite the fact that I didn’t have juice until we go to Katkop,” Louw laughed. “Fortunately I’ve got such a strong partner so he managed to get us to Katkop with the rest of the group.
“We had a good day but tomorrow is going to be another long day in the seat!”
There are very few other established crews at this years’ Fish but for Birkett, the strength of the field was never a question and having such a close race is something he is relishing.
“We knew that there were going to be a lot of strong combinations here for Fish so we were expecting it to be a tough day,” the Euro Steel star commented.
“It is great racing when there are a few boats in the contest and we really enjoyed the racing today.”
The ladies race followed a fairly similar pattern to the men’s race, however Hartley and Bedec managed to eek out a slender one and a half minute lead over the chasing Jenna Ward and Anna Kožíšková with the Under 23 pair of Kyeta Purchase and Kerry Segal finishing in third.
“It is great to have finished today in first,” Hartley said. “We would have been happier if our lead was a bit bigger but it’s great that there is such an exciting race for the ladies title.
“Usually there is a break away early and then you are on your own but it was awesome to be racing Jenna and Anna today.
The Hartley and Bedec combination has had some time to gel but Bedec was the first to admit that it took time for them to iron out the creases.
“We struggled a bit in training but we came together well today and we didn’t shake or anything which was great!”
In the age group racing the newly formed Varsity College pair of Kenny Rice and Tom Lovemore were the strongest Under 23 pair on stage one with Natal Canoe Club’s Jarryd Gibson and Brandon Orpwood taking second the Western Cape’s Nick Notten and Mark Keeling finishing third.
The junior men’s race is not as close as the Under 23’s with Alex Masina and Stewart Little holding a lead of just under six minutes over Border’s Joshua and Matthew Fenn who are being chased by the impressive Under 16 duo of Hamish Mackenzie and David Evans.
Leading the junior girls are the form Epworth pair of Caitlin Mackenzie and Amy Peckett.
The second and final stage will take paddlers from Knutsford to the finish at the Cradock Sports Complex on Saturday.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – FISH RIVER CANOE MARATHON STAGE ONE
1.Stuart Maclaren/Cyrille Carre (FRA) 2:42:02
2.Greg Louw/Andy Birkett 2:42:03
3.Murray Starr/Adrian Boros 2:43:36
4.Hank McGregor/Lee Furby 2:48:44
5.Alan Houston/Andrew Houston 2:48:45
6.Jasper Mocké/Sbonelo Khwela 2:48:46
7.Thulani Mbanjwa/Banetse Nkhoesa 2:48:47
8.Siseko Ntondini/Kiko Vega (ESP) 2:49:52
9.Jacques Theron/Bryan Leroux 2:49:53
10.Jakub Adam (CZE)/Simon van Gysen 2:49:54
11.Clinton Cook/Hamish Lovemore 2:51:49
12.Kenny Rice/Tom Lovemore (U23) 2:53:22
13.Alex Roberts/Wayne Jacobs 2:53:25
14.Brandon Orpwood/Jarryd Gibson (U23) 2:55:03
15.Trenton Lamble/Steve Woods 2:56:44
1.Bridgitte Hartley/Krisztina Bedec (SER) 3:05:21
2.Jenna Ward/Anna Kožíšková 3:06:22
3.Kyeta Purchase/Kerry Segal (U23) 3:15:50
4.Kirsten Penderis/Robyn Owen 3:16:46
5.Christie Mackenzie/Nikki Russell 3:19:11
Under 23 Men
1.Kenny Rice/Tom Lovemore 2:53:22
2.Brandon Orpwood/Jarryd Gibson 2:55:03
3.Nick Notten/Mark Keeling 2:56:54
Under 23 Women
1.Kyeta Purchase/Kerry Segal 3:15:50
Under 18 Boys
1.Alex Masina/Stewart Little 2:57:07
2.Joshua Fenn/Matthew Fenn 3:03:04
3.Hamish Mackenzie/David Evans (U16) 3:03:06
Under 16 Boys
1.Hamish Mackenzie/David Evans 3:03:06
2.Gustav Smook Jnr/Zanenhlanhla Mbala 3:16:42
3.Luc van der Westhuyzen/Samuel Butcher 3:17:22