2024 Berg River Marathon Set for Epic Showdown Without Champion Hank McGregor

John Hishin / Gameplan Media

With 13-time race winner Hank McGregor confirming this week that he will not be taking part in the 2024 Berg River Canoe Marathon, the main protagonists look likely to fight out a battle of the ages – with an international twist.

Even without the 46-year-old defending champion, the podium battle in the four-day event from Paarl to Velddrif on July 3-6 looks like being a struggle between the 20-somethings and a surprisingly strong field of older competitors.

The young contingent looks likely to be led by two of the young guns who occupied the second and third steps of the podium in 2023: Last year’s runner up, KZN’s 22-year-old Jeremy Maher, and 26-year-old Thomas Lovemore from the Eastern Cape.

Last year the talented pair won the first and third stages of the tough event respectively, but allowed the wily McGregor to secure a race-winning victory on Stage Two from Zonquasdrift to Bridgetown. With last year’s experience under their belts, the pair are sure to both be a bit more vigilant in closing down any potentially dangerous breaks this time out.

The third potential podium contender from the 20-somethings is KZN’s Thabani Msia. Msia does not have the reputation of his rivals, but anybody who doubts his pedigree need only looks at the most recent Dusi Non-Stop results. Msia is just 27-years-old, but has five consecutive wins on his CV from the gruelling 120km non-stop event. He has proved that he can suffer for a result and that is something all Berg winners have in common.

The older contingent are led by a surprise podium contender for 2024, Robbie Herreveld. In the 1990s, a young Herreveld won six Berg River Marathon in a row. Now, despite being clearly less young than in his heydey, Herreveld has been dishing out some lessons once again, and a win and a runner up place in the two most recent races on the Berg has ensured he will be watched closely by other race contenders.

Another history-making champion is Thulani Mbanjwa, who was the first black paddler to win the Dusi Canoe Marathon in 2008, and along with other 40-somethings Heinrich Schloms and Paul Marais, should be able to compete for a top-five place at least.

Adding some international flavour to the event will be Irishman David Horkan. He is probably better known as an adventure canoeist, but has some impressive ultra-marathon results, most notably a victory in the prestigious Devises to Westminster. Horkan will clearly not have the river knowledge of some of his local rivals, but if things fall into place he could be a contender.

In the women’s race, Stephanie Von der Heyde will be confident after some impressive results in the build-up races. With defending champion Christy Shrimpton writing exams, Von der Heyde will probably be looking at 2023 runner up Bianca Beavitt and the very young Tayla Isaac as her biggest challengers.

The Berg starts on Wednesday in Paarl and paddlers face an opening day of 62km to Zonquasdrift. Day Two, from Zonquasdrift to Bridgetown, is a mere 46km, before the Queen Stage, a brutal 75km grind to Zoutkloof. While the finish at Velddrif on the West Coast is a big carrot, wind and tides can make the 57km final stage a gruelling slog into the finish.