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Birkett and Nzimande

Birkett, Nzimande set the Dusi pace

The Dusi Canoe Marathon pre-race favourites, Andy Birkett and Khumbulani Nzimande, took the men’s honours while Cana Peek and Christie Mackenzie won the ladies stage despite a few incidents on Thursday.

Euro Steel’s Birkett and Nzimande played their cards close to their chests during the first half of the stage and while the Cape crew of Lance Kime and Shaun Rubenstein were pushing the pace at the front, they were patiently biding their time.

It was only on the Guinea Fowl portage that they put the hammer down and got themselves into the lead.

‘We didn’t really have a gameplan going into today, we just wanted to stay with the guys and see how strong they were on the run,’ Birkett said.

‘Khumbulani was so strong today and was telling me to go faster! I’ve never had that before so it just showed what sort of form he’s in. The first hill of the Guinea Fowl portage and then into Devil’s Cauldron was where Khumbulani really put in a surge and we got ahead,’ explained Birkett.

The one minute lead that Birkett and Nzimande hold will be crucial going into the second stage on Friday and the pair will have strong crews chasing them.

Red Bull/Euro Steel’s Khwela and his paddling and Euro Steel partner Mbanjwa had a strong opening day and have given themselves a good chance of pushing the leading pair on day two, trailing the race leaders by a minute overnight.

Known for their running prowess, the experienced pair will need to show the other side of their paddling arsenal on Friday with Kime and Rubenstein chasing.

The first stage was not without its drama as Cana Peek and Christie Mackenzie first swam at Taxi Rapid early in the day and then had quite a serious injury to deal with towards the back end of the stage.

‘I was running and trying to keep the boat straight as Cana dragged it along and the boat clipped me and I took a tumble,’ Varsity College/Euro Steel’s Mackenzie said.

‘I ran fine and only really knew the extent of the injury when I got in the water on the other side and saw the hole in my leg! We are going to hospital now but I don’t think it will affect my running but we’ll see how tomorrow goes.’

The pair have a two-minute buffer over the Glencairn sisters of Tamika and Bianca Haw going into the second stage, a stage that Peek believes will suit Mackenzie.

‘I am more of a runner and Christie is a really strong paddler but hopefully we won’t have to use our legs as much, but I am excited for the next two days,’ Peek commented.

The Haw sisters sit a mammoth twelve minutes ahead of third-placed Jenna Ward and Kyeta Purchase who opted to paddle rather than portage a lot of the obstacles on day one.

Young Thabani Msia and Mvelo Ngidi are the leading U23 boat after the opening day of racing while the Michaelhouse crew of Ross Leslie and Chase Liesegang were the first U18 boat across the line.

Amy Peckett and Cara Waud are the second U23 women’s boat going into stage two behind the women’s race leaders and Shannon Parker-Dennison and Frances Forsyth were the first junior girls pair home on Thursday.

The second stage of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes paddlers 46km from Dusi Bridge to Msinsi Resort at Inanda Dam.

Photo: Birkett and Nzimande, by Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media