Paarl — Graeme Solomon of Cape Town and Adrián Boros of Hungary form a potent combination under the banner of Team Bamboo Warehouse and they look hot favourites to win the team award at the 2018 Berg River Canoe Marathon.
The 57th edition of the four-day 240km paddling epic from Paarl to the West Coast town of Velddrif got under way on Wednesday morning and a healthy field will no doubt have welcomed the news that the river is on the full side for most of the journey.
It will be the first time in the race’s history that a team will be crowned Berg champions.
And it is hard to oppose the credentials of Solomon and Boros, who filled the top two spots on the podium in 2017. Boros was a wire-to-wire winner, with Solomon just behind him in second place. Solomon comes into the race in fine form after winning the pre-Berg Pink Ladies Marathon.
"We are quietly confident about our chances of coming out on top," said 45-year-old Solomon, whose sole victory from 19 previous Bergs, which included eight second-placed finishes, was in 2001.
"That said, my partner may be a bit tired after winning a gold and bronze medal at the European Championships in Croatia over the past weekend.
"But he’s the ultimate professional and I’m sure he’ll be ready to give it his all once we set off.
"We both welcome the new team format as the race was in need of re-energising. And then there’s been the drought in the Cape region over the past four years that compounded matters," he said.
"Having to race a really tough marathon race with hardly no water certainly wasn’t a pleasant experience, especially for a big, heavy bloke like myself.
"But this time around we’ve had plenty of rain, but not enough to say that all four days of racing will be plain sailing.
"I have tripped sections of the river and can see that things are going to be challenging on some of the days. The usual tree blocks and hyacinth growth, as well as the unknown elements, means having to be on guard throughout to ensure safe passage for the four stages.
"My job will be to keep an eye out for all the dangers and find the right routes, while Adrián, being the younger man, will provide the raw power spurts when needed," said Solomon.
Who will challenge them remains to be seen. The international duo of British marathoner Keith Moule and Dutchman Joep van Bakel should be up there. Moule was a top-10 finisher in 2017, while Van Bakel racked up a sixth place in 2015.
KwaZulu-Natal brothers Alan and Andrew Houston were set to pose a challenge but have had to withdraw as a team. Alan has since signed up Waldo van der Linde as his new teammate.
Legends Giel van Deventer, Jannie Malherbe and the Boehm brothers, Edgar and Rene, are making the trek again. It will be Van Deventer’s 49th Berg, while Edgar Boehm will be paddling his 45th race and Rene his 35th.