Paarl – Ten time Berg River Canoe Marathon winner, Hank McGregor has confirmed his entry for this year’s race from Paarl to Velddrif which takes place from 13-16 July.
The six time Marathon World Champion has dominated the event since the turn of the new millennium and is easily the race’s most successful competitor, almost doubling Robbie Herreveld and Stefan Hugo’s six and five Berg titles race victories, with every prospect that the Euro Steel/Kayak Centre star will extend his record to eleven titles next Saturday.
“After my win in my surfski at the Mauritius Ocean Classic last weekend, I’m feeling refreshed and ready to race!” confirms an upbeat McGregor.
“Everyone always says it but this year is genuinely going to be one of the most competitive Bergs ever and I’m super excited to see how it all pans out.
“I did a lot of miles leading up to Mauritius and then I did some mega miles when we were there too, so I’m fit and feeling great.”
While McGregor’s fellow KZN paddler and last year’s runner-up, Andy Birkett (Euro Steel) won’t be on this year’s start line, a strong Western Cape contingent consisting of Graeme Solomon (Bamboo Warehouse/Knysna Racing), Simon van Gysen, Stu Maclaren (Euro Steel) and Louw van Riet (AQRate) will hope to get themselves into podium contention.
McGregor however also points to the four international paddlers in the field – Hungary’s Adrian Boros, Australia’s Josh Kippin and Brendon Rice as well as Czech Republic’s Petr Mojzisek as major threats as well.
“The international guys really threw a spanner in the works last year and with World Championship medallists aplenty in this year’s group, they will be very strong.
“If you’ve won a medal at Worlds then you have the potential to upset the apple cart at the Berg for sure – just look at how strong Ben Brown was in 2013 until he got stuck in a tree block.”
McGregor also believes the locals’ tactics will play a key role in the influence of the internationals on the results.
“It will be interesting to see how the South African guys treat the internationals during the race.
“Will the South Africans look to race the South Africans and therefore look to use one or two of the overseas guys to get an advantage, or will the South Africans try stick together and race against the internationals?
“The river is also fuller this year than it was last year, which will help the international guys a little bit more because it takes a few more tree blocks out of the equation.
“A lot of trees have been cut down at the top section too so it seems like local knowledge will count for far less now than it used to.
“Either way though, we know the international guys are going to be extremely strong and definitely have what it takes to occupy a large portion of the top ten.”
While McGregor’s love of the Berg continues to draw him back, the Western Cape major also forms a key part of his annual calendar.
“When you cross the finish line at Berg, you feel like you’ve achieved something, regardless of whether you can first, fifth, twentieth or one hundredth.
“The Berg is also great race training for me, especially ahead of Marathon Worlds in September.
“Some guys deal well with high mileage and others are knocked for six. For me, the Berg recharges my batteries for the second six months of the year.”
Ominously for the rest of the elite field, the global paddling sensation won’t be the only McGregor on the water.
The 2016 Berg is set to be a McGregor family affair after McGregor’s father, Lee, also recently confirmed his participation after a comical exchange with his son, Hank, two months ago with the 64 year-old great grand master eyeing a remarkable third Berg top ten finish since his 60th birthday.
“Two months ago I said to my dad, ‘Why don’t you do Berg?’ and he turned around and said to me ‘I’ll do it if you do!’ and so now we’re both in,” laughs McGregor Junior.
“My dad is going to be there with me, along with my wife, Pippa and son, Thor, which is going to be very special for all of us.
“My son was born on the first day of the Berg two years ago and now there will be three McGregor generations at this year’s Berg with my son celebrating his birthday when the race finishes on Saturday.
“He’ll get to see both his dad and grandfather racing on his birthday and who knows, perhaps in fifteen years or so we may see him choosing to do a Berg of his own? I’ll let him decide about that in time though.”
The 2016 Berg River Canoe Marathon starts in Paarl on 13 July and ends at Velddrif on 16 July. More information can be found at www.berg.org.za