Paarl - The 49th edition of the Windhoek Berg River canoe marathon gets under way in Paarl on Wednesday morning, with the organisers assuring paddlers of perfect racing conditions for the tricky first stage through the thick tree blocks from Paarl to Zonquasdrift. For the 50 or so Elite paddlers it starts today with a 5km Time trial to determin there seeding for the race, which can be make or break for some.

After a weekend of rain over the Peninsula which has raised the water level in the river to a moderate level, race bosses have confirmed a water release from the new Berg River Dam above Paarl that will erase the possibility of starting on a low river, and greatly ease the problems created by trees blocks on the first stage.

The race has attracted a strong elite field, spearheaded by Durban ace and defending champ Hank McGregor who is setting out to win his seventh Berg title, which will make him the most successful paddler in the race's history. He currently shares the record number of six victories with the Gauteng based  90s "King of the Berg" Robbie Herreveld.

However McGregor is well aware that the nature of the local challenge from the strong Western Cape elite racers awaits him. Cape young Turks loom large to stage their own assault on Fortress McGregor.

Topping that list is Lance King, who finished second last year, and at one stage showed his hand in a strong solo break that, while it ultimately backfired, showed that he has the tenacity and tactical wherewithal to seriously challenge for the race title.

Add to that mix the likes of Pierre-Andre Rabie, who has won most of the key indicator races in the build-up to the Windhoek Berg, and the class of Heinrich Schloms, and the pressure on McGregor's reign may well come from a number of different quarters.

The women's race however is quite different. Second year Maties student Robyn Kime holds all the cards
Watch for pressure coming from a number of emerging local stars, including Jemma Hofmeyr, and the gutsy Durbanite Donna Winter, who brings a fitness base homed on the Durban winter surfski racing circuit.

The race includes legendary adventure racer Riaan Mancer, better known for his cycle around Africa and moe recently his kayak trip around Madagascar. Mancer will be thrilled at the river conditions look to be forgiving, as he openly conce4des to being a novice on the river and says he ahs plenty to learn on the 228kn journey from Paarl to Velddrif.

The Windhoek Berg River Canoe Marathon takes place for 14 to 17 July, and will be preceded by a time trials for 100 invited athletes on Tuesday 13 July. More information can be found at