Birkett and Zondi soar to commanding stage one victory
Dusi Bridge – The opening stage of the 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Dusi Bridge in the uMsundusi Valley was one of high drama and great movement as the title hopeful men’s crews looked to overcome the scorching heat of the runner-favoured leg with Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Zondi claiming a substantial five minute thirty three second lead going into Friday’s second stage.
After watching Lance Kime and Thulani Mbanjwa’s title hopes dashed as early as the second kilometer of the encounter while Adam Nisbet and Len Jenkins top ten took a major knock on Campbell’s Portage, Birkett and Zondi bided their time in the early stages of the clash but their superior running abilities soon saw them head to the front of the pack and will start the second stage as firm favourites.
“It was a great race for us today. We had a great time out there, some good fun and a few chirps about my driving too,” explained EuroSteel’s visibly satisfied Birkett.
“We’re very happy about our race today. Everything went according to our plan and to have a bigger than five minute lead going into day two I’m sure will be good motivation for us tomorrow,” added Zondi.
Having been second down the day’s first obstacle – the steep Ernie Pearce Weir – behind Kayak Centre/Team Jeep’s Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocké, Birkett and Zondi eased their way to the front on the Campbell’s Portage and never looked back from there.
“We managed to open up a little bit of a gap on Campbell’s but the plan wasn’t to try push too hard that stage. It’s still very early in the race and you can see it in how relaxed everyone is on the run there,” said Birkett.
“Once we got ahead though we looked to just keep a controlled pace because we knew from the Campbell’s put-in we had to try go really hard on the water.”
“By the time we got to Finger Neck (Portage) I was taking strain. At the put-in we heard a split for the first time and knew we had quite a nice gap though.
“Cabbage Tree Portage was the portage we had looked to target beforehand if we had been with other boats so we pushed hard but didn’t go too hard because we knew there was still a long way to go over the next two days.”
Despite having a comfortable lead, Birkett and Zondi know all too well that they would be wise not to count out the likes of McGregor and Mocké and will be hoping for a strong second stage performance on Friday to help seal the deal on their 2014 title challenge.
“Day two is a long day and more tactical than day one. Hopefully we can put the hammer down right from the start all the way to the finish,” said Zondi.
While slightly disappointed in the opening stage’s outcome, McGregor and Mocké remain confident they can fight their way back up to the overnight leaders during Friday’s second stage which includes the tricky section shortly after the uMsundusi and uMngeni River confluence.
“I certainly wouldn’t say we are satisfied with the lead Andy and Sbonelo have. It’s quite a big gap so if we want to win then there’s definitely going to be a lot work we’re going to have to put in over the next two days,” said Mocké.
“Having said that, if you told me at the start of the day that that’s what the gap was going to be, I wouldn’t have been overly surprised so it’s not like we’re shocked or anything and we have a lot of faith and confidence in our paddling so we’re looking forward to day two.
McGregor echoed Mocké’s sentiments. “It’s definitely not over but five minutes thirty three seconds – let’s just say I would have preferred that to have been our lead rather but that’s the way it goes.
“We still had a fantastic day and lots of fun though.
“Going over Ernie Pearce first with the crowd going mad is just such a rush and then there was just such an awesome vibe all the way through Maritzburg. I said to Jasper ‘This is what it’s all about!’.
“We raced as hard as we could. We didn’t make any mistakes. We just got out run by two pedigree runners who can paddle really well too and hats off to them. They deserve to be where they are and they’re not there by luck, that’s for sure.”
Despite being a little off the pace of Birkett and Zondi, McGregor sounded a clear warning to the overnight race leaders as he reminded them of his impressive 2013 second and third stage efforts after being in a similar position after stage one.
“I remember having a press conference after day one last year and Sbonelo and Andy told me the ‘ballie’ (McGregor) was a long way back and the gap then was nearly eight minutes so if its only five minutes this year then I’ve caught up over the past year so those youngsters better what out!” forewarned McGregor light-heartedly.
“There are still two days left and, without wishing the worst on anyone, there is a lot that can still happen. We’ve seen it play out in previous years.
“It’s a big day tomorrow, nobody really knows what’s going to happen with the water level and we’ve heard there are quite a few big hyacinth blocks along the way so anything can happen.
Surprise package Cam Schoeman and Czech Republic’s Jakub Adam showed immense determination to grind their way to an unlikely stage podium finish after Kime and Mbanjwa suffered the heart-breaking misfortune of having a fellow paddler’s rudder pierce Kime’s cockpit at Commercial Road Weir, forcing them to use their race stickers as a temporary fix to try prevent themselves from sinking before having to spend numerous precious minutes taping the gash at both Mussons Weir and Campbell’s Portage.
“Maybe we had a bit of luck on our side today,” said Schoeman of their surprise result. “Lance (Kime) and Bungee (Mbanjwa) are absolutely amazing athletes and unfortunately they had a bit of an issue which impacted heavily on their race and who knows how things would have worked out today had that not happened.
“I didn’t know they’d had a bit of a problem at Commercial Road (Weir) though and so, going over cabbage tre, every step I just kept thinking ‘Where are these guys?’. Jakub (Adam) and I held things together nicely though.
“The game plan was just try go at one speed the whole way. Jakub knows I don’t have a very high speed so we just tried to keep things consistent and Jakub really came through today phenomenally and really pulled me through too!”
Adam, the first international star to feature on Dusi’s day one podium, was pleased with the result, particularly after having to overcome the extreme temperatures along the route.
“Its nice to be third after day one. It’s a bit of a surprise for us. It was difficult sometimes, especially running uphill,” said Adam. “From Guinea fowl the heat got worse and worse and I just looked forward to the finish!”
With the day’s strong running flavour, Mbanjwa and Kime managed to get themselves out the woods slightly as they clawed their way back up to seventeenth position however a top five, even top ten, would even be a remarkable feat from the disappointing position they find themselves in.
Kwanda Mhlophe and Zonele Nzuza of the Computershare Change a Life Academy put together a powerful and impressive day one performance as they worked their way back from a slow start to finish fourth overall while another surprise came from Simon van Gysen and Craig Turton as they dug deep to hand onto the final place in the top five.
The junior boys race was a completely one-sided affair as under-18 standouts Damon Stamp of Maritzburg College and Computershare Change a Life Academy’s Mthobisi Cele destroyed their nearest rivals and instead turned their attention to the senior mix.
One of the great junior performances in the event’s day one history saw them finish in a remarkable sixth position and will now need to give everything they have to ensure they cling to their top ten position of the next few days.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – 2014 DUSI CANOE MARATHON
1.Andy Birkett/Sbonelo Zondi 2:33.30
2.Hank McGregor/Jasper Mocké 2:39.03
3.Cam Schoeman/Jakub Adam (CZE) 2:47.07
4.Kwanda Mhlophe/Zonele Nzuza 2:48.20
5.Simon van Gysen/Craig Turton 2:49.55
6.Damon Stamp/Mthobisi Cele (U18) 2:52.13
7.David Wood/Kelvin Trautman 2:53.25
8.Siseko Ntondini/Piers Cruickshanks 2:53.49
9.Loveday Zondi/Thando Ngamlana 2:53.50
10.Jacques Theron/shaun Griffin 2:53.59
11.Lucas Mthalane/Mmeli Cele 2:54.23
12.Shaun Biggs/Wayne Thompson 2:56.01
13.Andrew Houston/Ivan Kruger (U23) 2:57.04
14.Mhlonishwa Hlongwane/Nqobile Makhanya (U23) 2:57.17
15.Mark Michell/Trenton Lamble 2:57.18
16.Roland Smith/Thomas Ngidi 2:58.26
17.Lance Kime/Thulani Mbanjwa 2:59.14
18.David Chaplin/Mark Mulder 2:59.22
19.Skhumbuso Ngidi/Nkosikayise Cele 3:00.16
20.Carl Folscher/Ben Biggs 3:00.19
Under 23 Men
1. Andrew Houston/Ivan Kruger 2:57.04
2.Mhlonishwa Hlongwane/Nqobile Makhanya 2:57.17
3.Owen Gandar/Matthew Dean 3:01.26
1.Damon Stamp/Mthobisi Cele 2:52.13
2.Bryan le Roux/Ryno van der Westhuyzen 3:14.45
3.Patrick Dillon/Alan Houston 3:15.08
More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za