Pre-race favourites Andy Birkett and Lance Kime steered clear of the carnage of the drama-laden opening minutes of Thursday’s first stage of the 2016 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon to paddle and run themselves to a commanding three and a half minute overnight lead.
The drama unfolded minutes into the race at the Ernie Pearce Weir as the leaders jockeyed for position down the fish chute. Hank McGregor and Len Jenkins reignited their fiery relationship as the latter, with his partner Siseko Ntondini, forced the Euro Steel/Mocké Paddling pair of McGregor and Mocké into the bushes at the bottom of the weir, after colliding with them and spinning out their K2.
This meant that the crew of McGregor and Mocké, who were the first boat to the weir, lost considerable time on the rest of the field, and once they recovered their composure and restarted their race they ground through A batch to finish in second place overall.
And in the women’s race it was the crew of Pietermaritzburg star Abby Solms and her Czech Republic partner Anna Kožíšková who took firm control of the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon women’s race with an imperious first stage performance. The Euro Steel pair of Birkett and Kime steadily built a formidable lead over the rest of the field, striving for consistency and staying out of trouble on the slippery portages throughout a day which favours the runners as opposed to the paddlers.
‘There were a few nerves going into the start of today because Dusi is a different ball game,’ the five-time Dusi champion Birkett said. ‘You have to wait until the end of day one to see what your form is like so we just tried to keep a consistent pace from the start and race within ourselves.
‘It was great fun racing with Lance out there today, we had a really clean day and we really happy to have a slight lead going into tomorrow.’
The rain fell steadily throughout the day which provided the front paddlers with some respite from what could have been a tough opening day of the race.
‘Our seconders wanted to keep pouring water on us but we were already so cool and refreshed which makes for nice, comfortable racing and a great day out on the river. I thought that the portages would be more slippery but we still had quite a lot of grip,’ Birkett added.
Birkett’s partner Kime seemed to have had an enjoyable day on the river made better by the fact that their goals were achieved.
‘Anyone who is serious about winning the Dusi their aim is to win day one which sets you up.
‘We had a pretty smooth day and had our noses ahead most of the way even after Hank and Jasper had done well to catch up after their mishap early on.
‘They were just first going onto Campbell’s but from there we had the lead – I can’t say we never looked back because I did!’ he chuckled.
The pair got in front and were on their own the whole day without the knowing the time difference between them and the boats behind them.
‘It’s a bit unnerving not seeing anyone behind you! You look back on the long straights and you want to see someone behind you, not close, but someone behind you!
‘When you seem some blades splashing in the water behind you then you get that little kick you need but we didn’t see any of that today!’ a satisfied Kime commented.
A concerted surge from the Euro Steel pair of Sbonelo Khwela and Banetse Nkhoesa on the Guinea Fowl portage brought them right back into the race following a slow start and the duo finished the day well in third place.
The overnight podium is an exhilarating result for the Shongweni Dam pair, given that Nkhoesa was the victim of a nasty stabbing attack in eight weeks ago that left him with a punctured lung and severely injured shoulder muscles.
‘I am really glad that we managed to finish on the podium today,’ Red Bull athlete Khwela mentioned. ‘We managed to make up most of our places on the run because we struggled a bit on the paddle.
After a bright start the Under-23 Mooi River siblings Andrew and Alan Houston(Seedco) finished the first stage in fifth, battling with cramps in the latter stage, finishing 30 seconds behind Shaun Rubenstein and Thulani Mbanjwa.
Czech Republic marathon star Jakub Adam was relieved to be able to start the race with partner Jason Graham who had been doubtful due to a nagging virus illness. The pair raced steadily to finish ninth, overtaking the flagging Kayak Centre/Starsky duo of Murray Starr and Owen Gandar.
One of the performances of the first day was that of the Martin Dreyer’s Computershare Change a Life Academy’s Mmeli Cele and Khumbulani Nzimande who finished eighth overall.
Back to the women’s race and from the gun at Camps Drift the duo of Solms and Kožíšková (pictured below) were in a league of their own, quickly pulling away from the rest of the seeded women’s crews and quickly catching up with many of the seeded men’s crews during the tough 42km stage raced in rainy overcast conditions.
The only blemish on their impressive performance was a slip on a portage that left Solms with an abrasion on her leg, but it did little to slow their progress.
‘It was just about a perfect day,’ enthused Kožíšková, who was crowned world champion at last year’s world marathon championships. ‘We raced at a good steady pace throughout, and made sure we had plenty of energy at the end. It feels so good to feel strong going into the second stage,’ she added.
Solms was full of praise for her Czech friend. ‘It feels like a massive however-many-horsepower engine in the back of the boat.
‘She ran really well today. I felt that she was actually pushing me on the portages,’ said Solms.
The pair earned their 14-minute lead but don’t plan to ease back on their race plans. ‘We are still racing our own race,’ said Solms. ‘There is still so much that can happen over the next two days so we will carry on racing against ourselves and the guys around us.’
They added that they harbour a secret desire to make a statement by finishing in the top 20 overall.
‘I’m not sure if that’s ever happened in a K2 year but we really enjoy racing where we are amongst the men and to try and get into the top 20 overall would be great.
Solms said the early stages of the race had been difficult as they had to battle past slower male crews, which was particularly awkward on the narrow paths of the portages at Campbell’s Farm and Guinea Fowl.
Second overnight are the plucky Euro Steel Under-18 crew of Cana Peek and Kyeta Purchase, on a day that saw them trade places on a regular basis with Jenna Ward and her Hungarian partner Vanda Kiszli, and the seasoned locals Alex Adie and Tamika Haw, who bounced back from a swim at Ernie Pearce weir right at the start.
While it will take a disaster of spectacular proportions to derails the Solms/Kožíšková train, the race for the remaining podium places promises to be fascinating.
Day Two is a 46km stage from Dusi Bridge to Msinsi Resort on Inanda Dam.
STAGE ONE RESULTS (42KM CAMPS DRIFT TO DUSI BRIDGE)
1 Andy Birkett/Lance Kime 2hr 36min 40sec
2 Hank McGregor/Jasper Mocké 2:40:17
3 Sbonelo Khwela/Banetse Nkhoesa 2:40:56
4 Shaun Rubenstein/Thulani Mbanjwa 2:44:54
5 Andrew Houston/Alan Houston (U23) 2:45:26
6 Len Jenkins/Siseko Ntondini 2:48:40
7 Damon Stamp/Louis Hattingh (U23) 2:48:40
8 Mmeli Cele/Khumbulani Nzimande (U23) 2:49:55
9 Jason Graham/Jakub Adam 2:50:00
10 Murray Starr/Owen Gandar 2:51:14
11 Carl Folscher/Ant Stott 2:51:16
12 Jacques Theron/Piers Crukshanks 2:53:49
13 Siyabonga Tyiki/Thando Ngamlana (U23) 2:54:58
14 Murray Haw/James Speed (U23) 2:56:00
15 Greg Louw/Adrian Boros 2:56:29
16 Mzamo Zondi/Siyanda Gwamanda 2:56:46
17 Kwanda Mhlope/Loveday Zondi 2:57:47
18 Richard Cele/Mfaniseni Nyambose 2:59:01
19 Lucas Mthalane/Sipho Canham 3:00:53
20 Thomas Ngidi/Sboniso Shozi 3:01:12
1 Andrew Houston/Alan Houston 2:45:26
2 Damon Stamp/Louis Hattingh 2:48:40
3 Mmeli Cele/Khumbulani Nzimande 2:49:55
4 Siyabonga Tyiki/Thando Ngamlana 2:54:58
5 Murray Haw/James Speed 2:56:00
1 Mpilo Zondi/Mark Keeling 3:05:38
2 Craig Heenan/Bailey de Foundaumiere 3:20.39
3 Lethokuhle Luthuli/Mongezi Thusi 3:27:31
4 Emanuel Zaloumis/Hamish Lovemore 3:28:07
1 Abby Solms/Anna Koziskova 3:05:04
2 Cana Peek/Kyeta Purchase (U18) 3:19:09
3 Tamika Haw/Alex Adie 3:19:40
4 Jenna Ward/Vanda Kiszli (U23) 3:21:02
5 Jane Swarbreck/Kirsten Penderis 3:35:02
6 Kelly Howe/Sue Carter-Brown 3:35:55
7 Donna Tutton/Hayley Arthur 3:36:53
8 Kerry Segal/Julia Trodd (U23) 3:50:47
9 Debbie Lewis/Jessica Dicks 4:03:57
10 Jordan Peek/Kim Peek 4:08:28
1 Jenna Ward/Vanda Kiszli 3:21:02
2 Kerry Segal/Julia Trodd 3:50:47
1 Cana Peek/Kyeta Purchase 3:19:09
2 Jamie-Lee Robertson/Gina Forno 4:48:43
3 Gemma Lawson/Brittany Eayrs 5:11:18