Defending champions Andy Birkett and Jason Graham turned in a superb performance of running and paddling on Friday to take a complete stranglehold on The Unlimited 2012 title.
It was a a day of high drama that saw them add a further three minutes to the lead they had over the two challenging boats, setting themselves up for a third and final stage that ends at Blue Lagoon on Saturday morning.
The duo posted a rare incident free day over the 46-kilometre second stage from Dusi bridge to Inanda dam on a full uMngeni river that wreaked havoc with most of the field.
The dream team of Thulani Mbanjwa and Sbonelo Zondi suffered another day of bad luck, including a costly swim at Gauging Weir, which saw them slump to fourth place overall which opened the door for Hank McGregor and Len Jenkins to claim second and the Under-23 crew of Lance Kime and Kwanda Mhlope made it a clean sweep of the podium for Team Best 4 Kayak Centre.
“We had a really great race today. Jason (Graham) was extremely committed and didn’t give up from the time we started,” said Birkett. “We knew Hank and Len would be very strong today we just looked to try eliminate as many mistakes as possible.
“It was very full at the start but by the time we got to Confluence it had dropped quite a bit and so we had to change our tactics but fortunately we managed to adjust and things worked out really well for us,” he added.
The duo were feeling pressure from behind as Hank McGregor and Len Jenkins made a spectacular early morning charge as they raced towards the confluence of the uMsindusi and uMngeni rivers.
“We were quite worried about the first portage because the guys were catching us and Thulani (Mbanjwa) and Sbonelo (Zondi) were looking really strong but we managed to hold them off and got going quite nicely after that,” said Graham. “We were pretty tired coming onto the dam but we just had to dig deep and again we held them off despite Hank and Len being fantastic flatwater paddlers.
“We’re really looking forward to tomorrow now. Obviously there’s still a lot to be done and a lot can still happen but we’ll just take it as it comes in the morning,” he added.
A strong performance from McGregor and Jenkins on their preferred paddling-orientated day two was nullified somewhat with the river being unexpectedly full.
“As the water level goes up its not really the paddlers that are advantaged, its in fact the runners that benefit more because the extra water helps them keep their average speed up a bit more on the water and so we really struggled to close in on Andy and Jason,” said Jenkins. “Hats off to Jason and Birkie though. they did really well today and thoroughly deserve their win today,” he added.
Despite a clean, strong performance on day two world marathon champ Hank McGregor shared his partner’s sentiments regarding the race leaders.
“We had a really good day today but it was always going to be a big ask to catch the guys in front of us. We tried our hardest and fortunately we managed to catch Bungee and Sbonelo and then when we looked back after Gauging weir we saw they had an unfortunate swim so we pinned our ears back and tried to work on closing in on Andy and Jason,” said McGregor.
“We saw them coming up Nqumeni hill but they took another thirty five seconds out of us going up there and they just kept going. They are just phenomenal athletes and they had a really great day,” he added.
Kime and Mhlope surprised many, including themselves, and now sees them in an interesting position as they look to hold of Mbanjwa and Zondi on day three to claim an remarkable podium finish.
“We were quite lucky today. Our main worry when we started today was just to hold off Ruby (Shaun Rubenstein) and Steve (Farrell) but we surprised even ourselves and managed to catch Craig (Turton) and Jasper (Mocke) on the second saddle,” said Kime.
“We then went really hard and managed to get a gap coming down Nqumeni and that’s when I realised we were fourth and was very happy with the idea of finishing there at the end of the day,” he added. “All of a sudden we saw Bungee and Sbonelo in front of us and they seemed to be having a couple of issues and fortunately we managed to catch and pass them too,” he added.
“We definitely didn’t expect to be in this sort of position by the end of today so obviously we’re really happy with our performance today,” said Mhlope. “There’s still lots that can happen tomorrow though so we’ll try just do the same again tomorrow but with Bungee and Sbonelo behind us we know its going to be a really tough day.”
After a fantastic opening day performance Craig Turton and Jasper Mocke sturggled a little more on day two however still claimed fifth place and finished ahead of Olympian Shaun Rubenstein and his partner Steve Farrel whilst another crew on the move on the second day were the Biggs with Shaun and Ben moving up from tenth to seventh.
Team Best 4 Kayak Centre also stamped their authority on the ladies race as they claimed first and second here too when overnight leaders and defending champs Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky stretched their lead to 16 and a half minutes over second place Abby and Alex Adie, and in the process broke the women’s stage record.
“We had a bit of a hairy moment at Thombi (rapid) where we got a bit sideways and almost went over and them we did end up in the water at Hippo (rapid) but it was a very brief swim and we were back in the boat pretty quickly so it didn’t cost us too much time at all,” said Ulansky.
“Otherwise Robs drove like an absolute star and we had a really fantastic day on the water today and it was lots of fun to be able to paddle with the men,” she added. “Robs has such a great temperament and we both just love the Dusi so it has been really great to be back and paddling with her again.”
Another tough day for the Adies and a couple of mishaps saw the race all but slip away from their grasp.
“We had two silly swims today, one at Gauging weir where another boat in front of us swam and we didn’t handle that too well and then we made another mistake at Hippo and swam again,” said Abby.
“We didn’t feel too strong on the river but once we got onto the dam we managed to form a bit of a group with the guys and that was great,” added Alex.
Murray Haw and James Speed of Maritzburg College once again put in a stellar performance which saw them climb from fourteenth to twelth overall and were once again the first Under-18 boys crew across the line. Murray Starr and Donavan Wewege claimed second however will have to pull a rabbit out the hat if they are to claim the title.
Bianca Haw and Jordan Peek once again dominate proceedings in the junior girls race, breaking the junior girls stage record, and again finished ahead of Bianca’s older sister Tamika and her partner Jen Hodson. The pair are now a full twenty minutes ahead of Brittany Petersen and Kerry Shuter and look well set to finish on the top step of the podium when they arrive at Blue Lagoon in Durban on Saturday.
The Czech Republic crew of Michael Odvarko and Adam Jakub put in another strong perfromance in their first outing in The Unlimited Dusi to claim a solid twenty fourth place finish at the end of day two and will be looking to step things up even further on the final day and get themselves into the top twenty.
It was disappointing news for Change A Life academy crew Richard and Nhlanhla Cele after Nhlanhla suffered an ankle injury on the opening day of this year’s race which has now, despite the pair continuing with their race, ruled them out of contention for a possible top 10 finish.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – THE UNLIMITED DUSI CANOE MARATHON
DAY TWO (Stage time, Overall time)
1 Andy Birkett/Jason Graham 2:50.49 5:27.45
2 Hank McGregor/Len Jenkins 2:53.27 5:31.55
3 Lance Kime/Kwanda Mhlope (U23) 2:54.31 5:37.58
4 Thulani Mbanjwa/Sbonelo Zondi 3:01.01 5:38.01
5 Craig Turton/Jasper Mocke 3:02.07 5:43.24
6 Shaun Rubenstein/Steve Farrell 3:00.41 5:45.15
7 Shaun Biggs/Ben Biggs 3:00.17 5:51.32
8 Piers Crucikshanks/Mike Stewart 3:04.31 5:51.33
9 Lucas Mthalane/Mmeli Cele 3:07.30 5:55.27
10 Mark Mulder/Dave Chaplin 3:02.23 5:55.55
1 Robyn Kime/Abbey Ulansky 3:09.24 6:08.57
2 Abby Adie/Alex Adie (U-23) 3:14.52 6:25.36
3 Debbie Germiquet/Carmen Blakeney 3:27.48 6:50.19
4 Bianca Haw/Jordan Peek (U-18) 3:31.58 6:57.56
5 Tamika Haw/Jen Hodson 3:34.56 7:07.27
1 Lance Kime/Kwanda Mhlope 2:54.31 5:37.58
2 Brandon van der Walt/Clint Cook 3:02.48 6:05.47
3 Skhumbuso Ngidi/Nkosi Cele 3:08.39 6:08.26
1 Abby Adie/Alex Adie (U-23) 3:14.52 6:25.36
2 Bianca Haw/Jordan Peek (U-18) 3:31.58 6:57.56
3 Brittany Petersen/Kerry Shuter (U-18) 3:44.08 7:17.54
1 Murray Haw/James Speed 3:03.37 5:58.46
2 Donavan Wewege/Murray Starr 3:18.28 6:29.46
3 Banesti Nkhoesa/Sizwe Mhulo 3:17.11 6:30.56
1 Bianca Haw/Jordan Peek 3:31.58 6:57.56
2 Brittany Petersen/Kerry Shuter 3:44.08 7:17.54