Underberg - World champ Hank McGregor has confirmed that he will be on the start line looking for a fourth title in the N3TC Drak Challenge canoe marathon on 24 and 25 January, eager to erase the memory of the mistake that saw the title slip through his fingers last year.
Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media
McGregor was locked in a needle tussle with Any Birkett on a low uMzimkulu River as they entered the final section of rapids in the Lower Gorge.
"I knew that I had to get into Mkhulu Rapid first and I managed to outsprint Andy into Mkhulu. I made a mistake, deflected off a rock and was stranded high and dry like a beached whale and could only watch as Andy got through and paddled away."
"I hate losing period, but when I lose through a mistake that I have made then it becomes even more of a bitter pill to swallow," said McGregor.
"Hats off to Andy (Birkett). He took his chances well and it worked out well for him," he added.
Ominously for the other elite paddlers targeting the Drak Challenge, McGregor is excited about a summer season that will not be determined by Dusi training.
"It is really hard to be in good racing shape for a Drak and stay on course with your Dusi training with all its running and tripping," said McGregor.
"I have often found that it leaves me feeling slow come Drak time. This year I am not concentrating on a Dusi and I will be in much better shape for the Drak Challenge."
"Looking back it feels like I sacrifice three months of my paddling by preparing for the Dusi. My paddling definitely suffers, and it takes me a long while to fully recover from a hard Dusi.
"I am really looking forward to the December holidays now and I can concentrate on my paddling and be sure that I am really ready for the Drak.
"You never know what you are going to get with the Drak so you have to be fully prepared. Last year it was pretty low and it was flooded the year before. I love it in Underberg. The river is really fun and it is super pretty up there. I'm really looking forward to spending time there with my wife Pippa and son Thorsten.
McGregor missed the 2013 Drak Challenge because it conflicted with the Perth Doctor Surfski race in Australia, and Grant van der Walt capitalised on a flooded river to add his name to the list of winners of the race.
With the Perth Doctor now relocated to the end of the year on the international surfski calendar, McGregor will have no distractions as he prepares to add another Drak title to the three he won consecutively between 2010 and 2012.
The N3TC Drak Challenge 2014 starts on 24 January at Castleburn Bridge outside Underberg and finishes on 25 January at Early Mists Farm close to Coleford. More information can be found at www.drak.co.za
Winners of the N3TC Drak Challenge
Since it was formalised as a K1 race in 2003
Ant Stott (2003, 2005, 2009)
Len Jenkins (2004, 2006, 2008)
Max Hoff (Germany) (2008)
Hank McGregor (2010, 2011, 2012)
Grant van der Walt (2013)
Andy Birkett (2014)