Overnight leader Andy Birkett continued to set a blistering pace at the front of the field during Friday’s second stage of the 2015 Dusi Canoe Marathon which saw him extend the gap between him and second place Lance Kime and hold all the cards going into Saturday’s third and final stage.
The four time Dusi winner started the day with a 25 second advantage and an early mishap by Kime which saw him have to double back and retrieve his dropped paddle on the Saddles 1 portage, soon saw Birkett well out in front on his own.
A momentary lapse from Birkett at the start of the revised Nqumeni portage however saw the 24 year-old momentarily lose his way and with it some valuable time.
Birkett’s error and with Kime under pressure from a flying third placed Sbonelo Khwela (Euro Steel/Red Bull), the front of the men’s race looked there for the taking however a refocus from Birkett saw him destroy his competition in the second half of the day to finish five and a half minutes ahead of Kime.
“I am stoked with today, I wanted to put four minutes into the guys and I got five and a half so I couldn’t ask to be in a better position going into the final day,” he said. “I really enjoyed the level even though you do have to look for your lines and make sure that you don’t make too many mistakes.
The Msundusi and the Mngeni Rivers meet during the second stage and although there was not too much water coming from the Mngeni side Birkett was happy with the level of water compared to his training level.
“I wouldn’t say the level was medium to low, we have been spoilt at the Dusi, if you go tripping during the week when there is no release it is a lot lower than this so this is actually good water compared to what the Dusi normally flows at,” he added.
Despite the deficit, Kime will be all too aware of the importance of ensuring he puts in another strong performance on the final day following a day where was always in between catching Birkett or being caught by Khwela.
“I think my pace definitely did change, I think the first half was more effected by some little mistakes that I made early on and those ended up being costly and cost me 30 seconds to a minute,” said Euro Steel’s Kime.
“The fact that he was so close behind just gave me that extra push so I could always see him behind me when I looked back I could see that yellow life jacket and that gave me enough of a scare to keep pushing as hard as I could to the finish,” he added.
Khwela’s superb portaging abilities were again displayed on Thursday’s Nqumeni Hill as he ate into the lead of the two in front of him, something he will have to capitalize on fully on Saturday’s infamous Burma Road climb if he is to remain a title challenger.
“I think the body will tell me tomorrow if I have enough to go over Burma and be a threat but anything can happen in this race so I will do my best and with a day to go I can’t give up now,” said Khwela.
Build it/Williams Hunt’s Thulani Mbanjwa had another steady day in fourth place however the 31 year-old’s title challenge sadly seem over with a podium place even seeming a long way away.
Andrew Houston (Seed Co.) narrowly held onto fifth, and in so doing held onto his lead in the Under-23 men’s clash, as his good friends and training partners Owen Gandar and Murray Starr finished less than a minute back.
After a strong opening effort on Thursday, Zonele Nzuza suffered at the hands of Friday’s more paddling biased stage and was the top 20’s biggest faller – down from sixth to twelfth – while junior boys’ race leader Alan Houston of Michaelhouse was the biggest climber, up from twentieth overnight to thirteenth overall.
Women’s podium places up for grabs
The podium in the Dusi ladies contest is definitely not settled as there was some movement below the podium on the second stage of the race as Jenna Ward used her flat water experience to put pressure on current second place occupant Cana Peek with Laura O’Donoghue extending her advantage at the top to over half an hour with one stage to go.
The consistency of O’Donoghue over the first two stages of the 2015 edition of the three-day epic has meant that she has kept her distance from the chasing girls and the three-time runner up enjoyed keeping the pace with the paddlers around her.
“It was quite nice starting with the guys and I just tried to stay with them and work with them,” she said. “It was nice having a gap because if I got tired or something went wrong I knew that there was time but I still tried to race as hard as I could to keep up with the guys.”
The Euro Steel athlete has been dominant from the start of the race and stage two was no different however she cannot help but feel that the race will be a lot more interesting if a few of the other top lady competitors were there to battle it out for the title.
“It is unfortunate that a couple of the girls are not racing or not racing competitively and people say that it will be easier for me so obviously I want to prove to everyone that I have trained really hard for the race and am here to race well.
“it is unfortunate because I think it would have been an exciting race,” O’Donoghue mentioned.
A lady has never ended in the top 40 of the Dusi in the past and with O’Donoghue nine places outside the top 40 she is not putting too much pressure on herself to re-write the record books when she gets to Blue Lagoon on Saturday.
“I think I am 43rd of 44th at the moment and tomorrow will be really tough to keep tht because a lot of the men will be coming through strongly so I am going to paddle as hard as I can to Durban!” an upbeat O’Donoghue exclaimed.
The story of the race so far is Under-18 Cana Peek who continues to surprise as she ended the second stage in second place. The Epworth pupil is still astounded by her achievement and the situation still has not quite hit home.
“I still don’t really know what I am doing and I am just here to have fun and just enjoy the moment while it lasts, I felt like a celebrity!” a youthful Peek said after the second stage. “I had a few little hiccups today, I got spun out and had a few rudder problems but besides that I had a flawless day and I am still trying to come to terms with the reality that I am still in second place!”
The mover of the day, Jenna Ward, knew that the second stage of the race was going to be her strength due to there being less running and the Under-23 Marathon bronze medallist made a statement when she rose three places to third.
“My paddling definitely helped me today because it is my strongest point so just getting through day one was important and trying to keep the gap as small as possible is what I was trying to aim to do.
“I had to be careful down the rapids because there a lot of places where you can go wrong and I tried to keep it as safe as I could in the rapids and push it on the flat water especially on the dam section,” Ward mentioned.
Saturday’s third and final stage of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from Msinsi Resort, Inanda Dam to Blue Lagoon, Durban. Racing gets underway at 05h30 however the leaders start at 10h45 and the leading men are expected at the finish around 13h00. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za.
1. Andy Birkett 2:59.33
2. Lance Kime 3:04.37
3. Sbonelo Khwela 3:07.24
4. Thulani Mbanjwa 3:09.21
5. Andrew Houston (U23) 3:16.23
6. Owen Gandar 3:13.08
7. Murray Starr (U23) 3:13.06
8. Jacques Theron 3:15.53
9. Carl Folscher 3:15.44
10. Banesti Nkhoesa (U23) 3:17.32
11. Mhlonishwa Hlongwane (U23) 3:15.58
12. Zonele Nzuza 3:20.42
13. Alan Houston (U18) 3:20.53
14. Nqobile Makhanya (U23) 3:22.15
15. Marray Haw (U23) 3: 24.54
16. Travis Wilson (U23) 3:20.28
17. Mthobisi Cele (U23) 3:23.03
18. Nhlanhla Cele 3:21.51
19. Benjamin Bradford 3:20.43
20. Siseko Ntondini (U23) 3:22.30
1. Andrew Houston 3:16.23
2. Murray Starr 3:13.06
3. Banesti Nkhoesa 3:17.32
4. Mhlonishwa Hlongwane 3:15.58
5. Marray Haw 3:24.54
1. Alan Houston 3:20.53
2. Mpilo Zondi 3:27.12
3. Mswawenkosi Mtolo 3:28.00
4. Brandon Orpwood 3:24.14
5. Thabani Msiya 3:37.20
1. Laura O’Donoghue 3:36.36 6:49.34
2. Cana Peek (U18) 3:51.14 7:21.36
3. Jenna Ward (U23) 3:42.22 7:25.53
4. Jordan Peek (U23) 3:50.25 7:28.36
5. Hilary Bruss 3:50.30 7:32.33
6. Jane Swarbreck 4:06.31 7:47.23
7. Donna Tutton 4:01.58 7:58.10
8. Natasha Bulbring 4:08.27 8:01.55
9. Christie Mackenzie (U16) 4:16.12 8:14.20
10. Marion Young 4:29.49 8:35.06
1. Jenna Ward 3:42.22 7:25.53
2. Jordan Peek 3:50.25 7:28.36
1. Cana Peek 3:51.14 7:21.36
2. Christie Mackenzie 4:16.12 8:14.20
3. Jamie-Lee Robertson 4:37.19 8:45.14
1. Christie Mackenzie 4:16.12 8:14.20