Loučovice, Czech Republic -- Asserting himself as one of the world's most talented and versatile kayakers, Mike Dawson took top honors at the Hiko Devils Extreme Race on Saturday winning for the second consecutive year.
Dawson, 25, who represented New Zealand at the 2012 London Olympics, swiftly out-paddled 14 competitors clocking 12 minutes, 54.61 seconds down the demanding, nearly five-kilometer-long creek-race.
"For sure, it was a good run," Dawson said. "Other than one mistake, I had a good flow and had good energy levels the whole way, keeping the tempo high and trucking along."
The sixth edition of the race, which is the fourth stage of the Association of Whitewater Professionals’ Whitewater World Series, was contested on the Vltava River in the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, just north of the Austrian border.
"It's a pretty good course - it's natural with a lot of water and a lot of fun rapids," said Dawson, racing here for the third time. "I think a lot of guys go down looking for lines, but there is too much going on on this river, so I just tried to wing it."
Situated on the southern portion of the Vltava River, the lengthy course features whitewater ranging from class three to five, including the daunting 'Bloody Hands Rapids' section.
"My one mistake was in the 'Bloody Hands Rapids' where there's not a lot of places to rest," said Dawson. "I think a lot of people smashed their faces and knuckles there and one of the Kiwi boys knocked out his front teeth there this week."
2011 AWP Whitewater World Series Champion Eric Deguil of France finished second, 4.07 seconds off Dawson's pace.
"I'm pretty satisfied, because I had a few mistakes on the first rapids - I think they're called the 'Bloody Fingers' rapids," said the 31-year-old from the French Pyrenees. "Look at my fingers - I have a good present from the river," Deguil added, showing his bloodied knuckles.
"For sure, I could have been faster today, but Mike had a very, very good race," said the veteran French kayaker.
Enhancing the excitement of the Devils Extreme Race is a steep, 10-meter start ramp that launches paddlers into the water. Additionally, this year's flow on the Vltava had been boosted by a huge water release from the nearby Lipno Dam.
Persistent light rain and pea soup-like mist hampered the competition all throughout Saturday's races as well as during Friday's extreme slalom qualification and semi-final runs.
Third place went to Italian kayaker Michele Ramazza, who finished 17.5 seconds behind Dawson.
"I arrived on Tuesday to try the course because it was my first time here," said the 27-year-old Italian from Bologna. "It was pretty hard to remember all the lines. By halfway, I was pretty tired but I managed to do an OK run with just some little mistakes. I think could have been a few seconds faster."
The grassroots race, which has benefitted from its inclusion in the AWP World Series, has quickly grown into a well-attended, reputable international competition. Nine different countries were represented among the 15 finalists in men's final.
Host nation Czech Republic advanced four racers to Saturday's final with Viktor Legat finishing fourth (+21.29) and Jan Lasko ending fifth (+23.81).
Evina Fillova of Slovakia triumphed in the ladies race on Friday navigating a shorter Vltava whitewater course in 4:43.73. Fellow Slovak Zuzana Balejova took second (+7.12) while Czech Bety Brabcova was third (+7.98).
Dawson captured another victory Friday in the team race along with Kiwi teammates Sam and Jamie Sutton. The trio was 5.03 seconds quicker than the Devils Team, comprised of race organizers Jiri Kopecny, Miro Kodada, and Jakub Nemec.
The Devils Extreme Race is the fourth stop on the six-event AWP Whitewater World Series Tour. The series continues in early October with the Sickline Championship in Austria and culminates on November 3 with the Green River Narrows Race in North Carolina. [ Read more on the AWP Series HERE, and click HERE to read about Stage 3 in Voss, Norway. ]
Deguil, the defending series champion is anxiously anticipating the upcoming races hoping to defend his series title.
"I hope to be in good shape for the Sickline, but for me the quest is the Green Race," he said. "This is the most important race in the world - it has so much spirit with 1,000 people watching on the riverside. The course is fantastic and it is an incredible race."
"I would have kicked his a**," joked Dawson when asked if his Czech friend and training partner would have beaten him Saturday. "He's a pretty tough competitor and I'm sure he would have gone hard. He'll be at Sickline though so we'll get to have a rematch from last year there."