As 2017 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon fever gradually begins to take hold of the KwaZulu-Natal paddling community, Sbonelo Khwela powered his way to a fourth consecutive win at the Umpetha Challenge as three-time Olympian Bridgitte Hartley announced her arrival on the Dusi scene with a win in the women’s race on Sunday.
The race, which is the first front-row seeding race of the 2017 Dusi, is organised by the Natal Canoe Club development team and supported by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation, finished with the familiar sight of Euro Steel/Red Bull’s Khwela striding to victory at the hill-top finish at the Bishopstowe Hall.
‘I’m really happy how my race went today, it all went according to plan which I am very pleased with,’ Khwela commented. ‘I managed to get away from Banji (Thulani Mbanjwa) on the final portage and I felt good throughout, so I was happy with that as well as my form today.
‘Banji and I worked well together to the take-out and I knew that I had a chance if I could just get a slight gap and so when I looked down and couldn’t see Banji, I knew that I was in the clear,” a satisfied Khwela said.
The race was not without its drama as early race leader Siseko Ntondini took a swim at the Commercial Road Weir, which handed the advantage back to the pre-race favourites.
After third-placed Euro Steel star Banetse Nkhoesa swam at Taxi Rapid the door opened for Computershare Change a Life Academy veteran Lucas Mthalane to take third position behind Khwela in first and Build-it/William Hunt’s Thulani Mbanjwa in second.
‘I knew that my paddling today was going to be strong enough to stay with the guys at the front of the race, but I was a little worried about the run but luckily myself and Sbonelo had a big enough advantage over the other guys.
‘When we took out at the portage I was smiling because I knew that we had a big enough gap so all I needed to do was survive the run,’ Mbanjwa chuckled.
The women’s race was dominated by Hartley (pictured above), who was impressive in her adaption to the conditions and although, she admits, the ladies field might have been watered down slightly she was encouraged by how she negotiated her way through the 18km race.
‘I’m happy with how everything went today but I know that Abby (Solms) isn’t here and she is the girl that we are all going to be chasing!
‘I did a lot better than I thought I would and despite a swim at Taxi I managed to surprise myself at how well I went.
‘I wasn’t expecting to swim more than I did but I was a little nervous coming into the race and to only have one swim gives me some confidence. However, I know that there are much bigger rapids on in the river than the ones we paddled today.’
With a number of years of flat-water marathon experience to her name the concept of portaging is slightly foreign to Hartley.
‘Having the boat on my shoulder was different and the legs started burning a little bit more, but I managed well and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be!” she added.
The young Christie Mackenzie was not awestruck by taking on South African paddling’s golden girl and she produced a performance that has put her name on the women’s paddling map.
‘Today was really good for me and finishing behind Bridgitte is great, she is one of my paddling role models so I am incredibly happy and it is great to be on the podium with her!
‘The run was really tough for me. I need to put in a lot more work on my running, but I still haven’t made a decision on Dusi so I might not have to worry too much about it,” Mackenzie commented with a smile.
Mackenzie’s U18 colleague and Euro Steel/Mocké Paddling’s Kyeta Purchase rounded out the women’s podium when she came home in third place.
The Junior Boys title was won by Mphilo Zondi, managing to hold off the charging Stewart Little who took second place with Craig Heenan, rounding out the junior’s podium.
Pictures of Khwela and Hartley courtesy of Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media
1 Sbonelo Khwela 1hr 17min 02sec
2 Thulani Mbanjwa 1:17.34
3 Lucas Mthalane 1:19.01
4 Banetse Nkhoesa (U23) 1:20.01
5 Siseko Ntondini (U23) 1:20.25
6 Mmeli Cele (U23) 1:21.30
7 Loveday Zondi 1:21.40
8 Bryan Leroux (U23) 1:21.50
9 Jacques Theron 1:21.55
10 Khumbulani Nzimande (U23) 1:22.00
11 Mpilo Zondi (U18) 1:23.18
12 Stewart Little (U18) 1:23.26
13 Mthobisi Cele (U23) 1:24.43
14 Richard Cele 1:24.57
15 Siyabonga Tyiki (U23) 1:25.12
1 Bridgitte Hartley 1:30:16
2 Christie Mackenzie (U18) 1:34.27
3 Kyeta Purchase (U18) 1:46.06
4 Debbie Gillet 1:51.45
5 Melissa van Rooyen 1:52.16
1 Banetse Nkhoesa 1:20.01
2 Siseko Ntondini 1:20.25
3 Mmeli Cele 1:21.30
4 Bryan Leroux 1:21.50
5 Khumbulani Nzimande 1:22.00
1 Kelly van Biljoen 1:58.28
1 Mpilo Zondi 1:23.18
2 Stewart Little 1:23.26
3 Craig Heenan 1:25.50
1 Christie Mackenzie 1:34.27
2 Kyeta Purchase 1:46.06