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Birkett and Zondi pull away in Dusi Marathon
- Updated: February 15, 2014
Friday’s second stage of the 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon quickly became the Andy Birkett/Sbonelo Zondi show as the overnight leaders piled the pressure onto their chasers, increasing their overnight five and a half minute lead to a mammoth nine minutes.
They now have one hand firmly on the coveted Player Family winner’s trophy.
Without the scorching heat of Thursday’s opening stage it was red line racing from the get go at the front of the men’s field as the race’s longest stage from Dusi Bridge to Inanda Dam offered a little more for those more paddling orientated than the running-favourable opening stage.
ÔÇ£Hank (McGregor) and Jasper (Mock├®) had made their intentions quite clear that they were going to try and catch us so from the start we just tried to hold a really high pace because we wanted to try and win the mental game,ÔÇØ explained a visibly fatigued Birkett, pictured right.
ÔÇ£We really wanted to try and put three minutes on them today and that was always going to be a hard task, especially because they are such strong paddlers and today is a paddler’s day.
ÔÇ£In the end we managed to open up a further three and a half minutes so we are really chuffed but it was a really tough day of racing.
ÔÇ£Last year I messed up my race on Day Two and I was actually really nervous and scared going into Tombi (rapid) today.
ÔÇ£Hats off to Sbonelo (Zondi). He pushed me the whole way. I haven’t been this tired at the end of a stage of Dusi!ÔÇØ added the EuroSteel star.
Zondi, having been in a similar position in 2013 where he led the race after both stage one and two only to have victory cruelly snatched from his grasp in the dying stages of day three, hinted at possibly portaging around the infamous Pumphouse Weir and Rapid on Saturday given the lead he and Birkett now enjoy.
ÔÇ£We haven’t discussed how we are going approach tomorrow but I am a little nervous about Pumphouse after I messed up there last year,ÔÇØ said Zondi.
ÔÇ£I think we should definitely portage that section,ÔÇØ he said tongue in cheek and with a hinting smirk on his face.
To which his partner swiftly replied. ÔÇ£I didn’t have an option of portaging Thombi today and I’m not scared of Pumphouse so I don’t think we should have an option of portaging that either!ÔÇØ he chuckled.
ÔÇ£I got over my fear of Thombi today and so I think that Sbonelo should get over his fear of Pumphouse tomorrow,ÔÇØ he added jokingly.
Second placed McGregor (Kayak Centre/Team Jeep) and Mock├® flew out the blocks and soon destroyed one of the five and a half minutes Birkett and Zondi had over them overnight.
A tough Nqumeni Portage however saw them lose this and more before an extremely close shave at Thombi Rapid nearly ended their race entirely.
ÔÇ£We were going into the rapid without being able to steer at all because our rudder had flipped up. The rocks were just getting closer and closer and there was nothing I could do!ÔÇØ described a disbelieving McGregor afterwards.
ÔÇ£I tried screaming to Jasper to please do something but the helicopter was above me and he couldn’t hear a thing I was saying.
ÔÇ£Somehow we managed to scrape through a line that I wouldn’t ever shoot again in a million years but that really was a scary moment!ÔÇØ added the triple Canoe Marathon World Champion.
Stage one third place holders Cam Schoeman and Czech Republic’s Jakub Adam of Pope’s Canoe Centre again put in a remarkable effort to cling to the position the claimed somewhat surprisingly on day one.
ÔÇ£We just gave it our all throughout today. Kwanda (Mhlophe) and Zonele (Nzuza) came straight past us going up Nqumeni (portage) but fortunately we managed to get ahead by the put-in again and then just really worked hard,ÔÇØ said Schoeman.
ÔÇ£We really worked hard on the dam and I was happy to see the flatwater then, with my marathon background,ÔÇØ added Adam. ÔÇ£I was very happy to eventually see the finish line though!ÔÇØ
EuroSteel and Computershare Change a Life Academy stars Mhlophe and Nzuza’s great first day form continued on the paddling-dominant second stage as they again finished fourth.
They only narrowly edged out day two’s flyers Lance Kime (Best 4 Healthcare/EuroSteel) and Thulani Mbanjwa (Build it) though as the pair stole Birkett and Zondi’s limelight slightly after recovering from seventeenth position to fifth and, having already more than salvaged some pride, will now hope to somehow make the final step on the podium their own on Saturday.
A bunch of four boats ÔÇô Jacques Theron and Shaun Griffin, Siseko Ntondini and Piers Cruickshanks, Loveday Zondi and Thando Ngamlana as well as Craig Turton and Simon van Gysen ÔÇô crossed the finish line together in positions six through nine, leaving the door wide open for a titanic battle for the top ten’s second half on the third and final day, one which 10th place and first Under-18 boys crew Damon Stamp and Mthobisi Cele will be hoping to join.
Thousands are expected to flock to Durban’s Blue Lagoon on Saturday to witness the finish of the 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon as, due the 2013 start order changes continuing again this year, the leading men look to cross the finish line at around 1pm.
Meanwhile, in the women’s race, overnight women’s race leaders Robyn Kime and Dusi Queen Abbey Ulansky, right, managed to stretch their already slender lead ever so slightly on Friday’s second stage from Dusi Bridge to Inanda Dam however just 90 seconds now separates them from their chasers and the tight affair promises to produce a fascinating final day’s contest.
With day one’s tough day favouring the runners, stage two’s longer stretch included a stronger paddling dominance which initially suited the chasers, Abby Adie and Anna Adamov├í (Czech Republic).
ÔÇ£Abby and Anna caught us quite soon after the start, which we had expected them to do because they are much stronger paddlers than we are,ÔÇØ explained Ulansky who will be hoping to make it win number nine on Saturday.
ÔÇ£Our portages were much better than they were yesterday so we managed to just pull ahead a little on each and every portage, as well as with Robyn’s great driving, which saw us get quite a nice lead at the start of the Inanda Dam stretch.
ÔÇ£Abby and Anna managed to close the gap a little bit across the dam but we were pleased to have the extra minute than we had yesterday. I don’t think a lead is ever big enough but at least it’s not the other way!ÔÇØ she enthused.
The day was always going to be more of a test of her river skills and knowledge than the first stage and the young star came through with flying colours.
ÔÇ£The pressure was definitely on but that’s part of the Dusi,ÔÇØ said the best 4 healthcare/Kayak Centre athlete. ÔÇ£You know at the start that one of the biggest challenges is that you have to function under pressure.ÔÇØ
ÔÇ£It really helped having Abbey in the back of the boat though. She knows the river so well and gave me advice the whole time which was great.ÔÇØ
Having closed the gap and enjoyed a game of cat and mouse with Kime and Ulansky throughout the first third of the stage, Adie and Adamov├í then went through a bad patch midway through the day and were forced to dig deep on Inanda Dam’s flat water to minimize the damage.
ÔÇ£Anna finished her juice by the bottom of Nqumeni Hill portage so she was pretty tired in the middle section. After Hippo (Rapid) we then hit a wall (mentally) and I just made some really silly mistakes,ÔÇØ said Adie.
ÔÇ£We managed to get Anna some more juice at the headwaters of the dam and that’s when we really tried to lift ourselves and get back into the race even though we were pretty dehydrated by that stage,ÔÇØ she added.
Replenished stocks were welcomed by Adamov├í ahead of the 14km of flat water to the stage’s finish line. ÔÇ£The flat water was good. Once I got my second bag of juice I got my second wind and we tried to catch back up on the dam,ÔÇØ said the 2013 Canoe Marathon World Championships K1 and K2 podium finisher.
As the front two pairs went head to head, Under-23 talents Tamika and Bianca Haw continued their podium challenge as they looked to fend off the challenge of their chasers and solidify their third place.
ÔÇ£We definitely weren’t worried about the top two crews,ÔÇØ chuckled Bianca. ÔÇ£Today we were just looking to hold off the others behind us.
ÔÇ£We’re definitely still looking to have fun out there again tomorrow but it would be nice to finish on the podium too,ÔÇØ added Tamika.
Overnight fifth place holders Hilary Bruss and Alex Adie moved up one in the pecking order on the second stage after Bruss overcame her poor health of day one while Jen Theron and Jane Swarbreck rounded out the top five.
With not much separating the two crews going into the third and final day it is all to play for with just a single error likely to be enough to erase either pair’s title hopes.
ÔÇ£I had a look at the past years’ times recently and two years ago we had an 1- minute gap and then there’s no real pressure to race. It’s more about just surviving,ÔÇØ said Kime.
ÔÇ£It’s a very different story now. After two days of racing there’s only a minute and a half between the first two boats. It has been exciting to have such a tight race and really great for the sport!ÔÇØ
The question on everyone’s minds is whether each pair will run over the lung-bustingly steep Burma Road portage or paddle around and face the notoriously tricky stretch of river.
ÔÇ£We haven’t quite decided just yet,ÔÇØ said Ulansky. ÔÇ£Realistically it would make sense for us to go over. Robs and I haven’t paddled around in years and don’t know that stretch very well but I do have a bit of a foot injury and, with us starting later than in the past, it will be a lot hotter so we’ll just have to see.ÔÇØ
ÔÇ£For us there is no point in putting Anna’s knee under more strain by going over and so we’ll definitely be going around,ÔÇØ confirmed Adie.
A captivating women’s final day is anticipated and thousands of Durbanites are expected to head to Blue Lagoon to welcome the leading crews home mid-afternoon on Saturday.
Pictures: Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media
SUMMARY OF RESULTS ÔÇô 2014 DUSI CANOE MARATHON
1.Andy Birkett/Sbonelo Zondi 2:57.02 5:30.33
2.Hank McGregor/Jasper Mock├® 3:00.26 5:39.29
3.Cam Schoeman/ Jakub Adam (CZE) 3:03.23 5:50.30
4.Kwanda Mhlophe/Zonele Nzuza 3:10.12 5:58.32
5.Lance Kime/Thulani Mbanjwa 3:00.00 5:59.15
6.Jacques Theron/Shaun Griffin 3:06.24 6:00.23
7.Siseko Ntondini/Piers Cruickshanks 3:06.35 6:00.24
8.Loveday Zondi/Thando Ngamlana 3:06.34 6:00.25
9.Craig Turton/Simon van Gysen 3:10.30 6:00.26
10.Damon Stamp/Mthobisi Cele (U18) 3:11.10 6:03.23
1. Andrew Houston/Ivan Kruger 3:08.30 6:05.34
2. Mhlonishwa Hlongwane/Nqobile Makhanya 3:15.22 6:12.39
3. Owen Gandar/Matthew Dean 3:14.57 6:16.24
1.Damon Stamp/Mthobisi Cele 3:11.10 6:03.23
2.Patrick Dillon/Alan Houston 3:20.48 6:35.57
3.Bryan le Roux/Ryno van der Westhuyzen 3:23.25 6:38.10
1.Robyn Kime/Abbey Ulansky 3:17.56 6:19.57
2.Abby Adie/Anna Adamova 3:19.30 6:22.00
3.Tamika Haw/Bianca Haw (U23) 3:38.52 6:55.08
4.Hilary Bruss/Alex Adie 3:34.24 6:57.41
5.Jen Theron/Jane Swarbreck 3:43.29 7:05.52
6.Carmen Donald/Debbie Germiquet 3:45.57 7:15.55
7.Jenna Ward/Kerry Segal (U23) 3:42.49 7:21.58
8.Jordan Peek/Brittany Petersen (U23) 3:46.18 7:24.36
9.Susan Carter-Brown/Kelly Howe 3:52.14 7:27.39
10.Camilla Pennefather/Cana Peek (U18) 4:09.28 7:49.26
1. Tamika Haw/Bianca Haw 3:38.52 6:55.08
2. Jenna ward/Kerry Segal 3:42.49 7:21.58
3.Jordan Peek/Brittany Petersen 3:46.18 7:24.36
1.Camilla Pennefather/Cana Peek 4:09.28 7:49.26
2.Sarah Harries/Julia Trodd 4:19.36 8:10.05
3.Kennedy Stone/Rebecca Martin 5:15.54 9:49.03