Birkett, Zondi start as Dusi Marathon favourites | SASCOC - SASCOC

Birkett, Zondi start as Dusi Marathon favourites

The 63rd edition of the Dusi Canoe Marathon is primed to develop into one of the greatest of the iconic three day paddling adventure race’s history as the cream of the sport’s elite stars go head to head on Thursday to claim the coveted Player Family trophy.

The men’s race is one bubbling with talent and is one of the most widely anticipated clashes of recent times as the paddling fraternity frantically make last minute predictions on who, if anyone, will be able to overcome pre-race favourites Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Zondi (both EuroSteel), pictured right.

Birkett, a three times Dusi winner, and Zondi, 2013’s ‘Dusi Darling’, have laid down a marker in the weeks leading up to the event and will undoubtedly be many’s firm favourites ahead of Thursday’s race start.

Canoe Marathon World Champion Hank McGregor (Kayak Centre/Team Jeep) and Jasper Mock├® will however be the first to put their hands up and fellow title contenders and, with the water level still a slightly unknown factor, will be hoping a solid day one will see them in a strong position to challenge for top honours on the second and third stages.

2013’s winner Lance Kime (Best 4 Healthcare/Euro Steel) and Thulani Mbanjwa (Built it) will be the third crew with an eye on the top step of the podium and, having both claimed victory in the event previously, know exactly what it takes to overcome the rest.

While the ‘Big 3′ go head to head for the overall title, many are expecting a similarly ding-dong battle to unfold amongst those contesting positions four through to 12 with the likes of Lucas Mthalane and Mmeli Cele (both Computershare Change a Life Academy), Ben Biggs and Carl Folscher, Jacques Theron and Shaun Griffin as well as Cam Schoeman and Czech Republic’s Jakub Adam all hoping to claim a spot amogst the top five.

The women’s race is viewed by most as a two-boat clash as two times defending combination Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky (both Best 4 Healthcare/Kayak Centre) go head to head with five time runner-up Abby Adie (Best 4 Healthcare/Kayak Centre) and Czech Republic’s Anna Adamova.

The battle for the third position on the podium is another that sees a handful of crews putting their hands up for consideration. 2012’s river marathon princess Jen Theron (Knysna Racing/PVM) and adventure racer and paddling novice Jane Swarbreck, vastly experienced Hilary Bruss and Adie’s twin sister Alex as well as Under-23 siblings Bianca and Tamika Haw will all be top three contenders.

The junior boys and girls races will also be hard-fought affairs with the country’s youth hoping to make a name for themselves at this year’s clash. Damon Stamp (Maritzburg College) and Mthobisi Cele (Computershare Change a Life) are expected to reign victorious in the junior boys race while Camilla Pennefather and Cana Peek look set to lead proceedings in the girls battle.

The 2014 event sees the event supporting the invaluable work of the Dusi Umgeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) as well as the newly launched Dusi Canoe Marathon Charity.

Individual initiatives are plentiful at this year’s race as well with Kelvin Trautmann and David Wood (Syngenta/DUCT) while Debbie Lewis and Diana Rietz will be hoping their effort will help raise both funds and awareness for cancer and, in particular, the Lettie Paddle initiative.

With Umgeni Water having confirmed water releases but less water in the system that 2013, organisers are confident the true, tough paddling adventure element of the iconic event will be a factor this year however a comfortable, enjoyable river level can be expected.

The heat of the uMsundusi and uMngeni River valleys is another element likely to add to the challenge of this year’s race as temperatures of well beyond the 30 degree celcius are expected on the opening stage before things cool down slightly on days two and three.

The Dusi Canoe Marathon 2014 starts in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday and ends in Durban on Saturday.