The original and biggest creek race in America will take place this Saturday in North Carolina. As always, the 18th edition of the Green Race will be both a grass-roots celebration and an elite competition. Top whitewater athletes from around the world will join local stalwarts and weekend warriors to test their skills on the Southeast's most iconic creek. As the clock ticks toward Saturday's high noon start, it's a good time to start a conversation about the question on everyone's mind. Who's going to win?
Van Wijk won in both downriver and slalom at the Little White Salmon Race in Washington in June, and capped those victories with a win in the North Fork Championship Expert Division--earning her an entry to compete against the men in the boatercross event the next day. We won't reveal who she beat in that race.
Green River local Levknecht, meanwhile, has used the season to step up her freestyle game, placing third at both the Payette River Games in June and at the ICF Freestyle Kayaking World Championships in North Carolina in August. She quickly switched back to creekracing for the Adidas Sickline in Austria earlier this month, placing sixth overall as the only female racer to represent the United States.
The two have a heated, albeit loving, rivalry. Levknecht came out as the victor at last year's Green Race over Van Wijk by eight seconds in the longboat division, defending her title as Queen of the Green for the fifth year in a row. Last week, though, Van Wijk edged Levknecht in the Russell Fork Race by one second, demonstrating she's got what it takes to claim the title. Both have been pushing Green laps this week in preparation, often paddling with each other.
"The competition here is the tits," said Van Wijk. "Adriene is a rad competitor and friend!"
With last year's winner, New Zealand Olympian Mike Dawson, sitting out this year's Green Race at home, the men's field is as wide-open as ever. You could put three men in your favorites column, and count another half-dozen as legitimate contenders. "We've got lots of good competition out there this year," said two-time Green Race winner Pat Keller.
Despite breaking his back last April and wondering whether he'd be able to race at all this year, 2011 Green Race winner Isaac Levinson has put in a lot of river time in the last couple of months, and a recent win at California's Class V Feather Fest race attests to his good form. Count him among your three top contenders, together with French slalom convert Eric Deguil and all-around prodigy Dane Jackson.
Both Deguil and Jackson have had impressive seasons on the international racing circuit. After winning his second consecutive AWP World Series title in 2012, Deguil came into this season strong with a first-place win at the Outdoor Mix Festival Extreme Kayak Race in France, the first event in the 2013 World Series. He has since held steady in the top 10 places for all Series qualifying races and is tied with New Zealand's Sam Sutton and Spain's Gerd Serrasolses (who is also competing at the Green Race) for first. The Green Race is the last event in the AWP series, and Deguil's performance Saturday will determine whether he claims the World Series championship for a third straight year.
Then there's the Jackson kid who came in second at last year's Green Race, five seconds behind Dawson but still three seconds better than the previous record, set by Andrew Holcombe in 2009. Jackson capped that performance by winning the Whitewater Grand Prix in December in Chile. Now, Jackson will have his chance to take down Dawson's record of 4 minutes 10 seconds and claim the Green Race's iconic stained glass trophy for himself.
We've made our top guesses, but the beauty of the Green Race is really it's anybody's game. Keller and Serrasolses are also in the mix for the top spot, and locals with the home-field advantage are just as competitive as the world's top racers. Gorilla has no favorites and will offer beatdowns to anyone who slips up.
So who will it be? Stay tuned to CanoeKayak.com to find out.