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Birkett gets his teeth into Dusi preparations with Croc victory

2015HighveldCrocAndy

Four-time winner Andy Birkett strengthened his status ahead of next month’s Dusi Canoe Marathon with an empathic victory in the Euro Steel Highveld Croc in Gauteng against a strong field that included two other strong Dusi title contenders.
With the race serving as a Dusi front row seeding event and fellow 2015 Dusi ‘Fantastic Four’ members Sbonelo Khwela (Euro Steel/Red Bull) and Lance Kime (Euro Steel) hot on his heels, Birkett powered to a three minute lead on Saturday before stretching his command to over nine minutes at the end of Sunday’s second stage.
‘The Euro Steel Highveld Croc was more of a paddler’s race than a runner’s race and the portages certainly weren’t as tough as those that we’ll experience at Dusi but it was nice to come out of a bit of training over the festive season and see a good result,’ said Birkett.
‘It certainly wasn’t comfortable all the way and Sbonelo (Khwela) and Lance (Kime) actually took a minute and a half out of me on the first portage of day two! Fortunately I managed to put a bit of time into them on the river,’ he added.
The win gives Birkett further confidence ahead of his Dusi title charge from 19-21 February with this weekend’s N3TC Drak Challenge representing another golden opportunity for one of the pre-race favourites to fine tune his river skills.
‘It’s always nice to get a win and I’m really looking forward to this weekend’s Drak Challenge in Underberg.
‘The river is dropping quite quickly so we’ll just have to see how much water we end up getting but it will be nice to try get another good couple of days on the river under my belt as I keep building towards Dusi.’
The Euro Steel ace is still eager to put in some more training miles both on and off the water in the final month before the iconic Pietermaritzburg to Durban showdown but is comfortable with how his running in particular has progressed given Khwela’s renowned portaging abilities.
‘Sbonelo is such a natural runner and I’m not, so I’ve been trying to get up to speed but that does take time.
‘There are still four weeks to go before Dusi so there is definitely still work to be done but I’ve done my fair share of running recently.
‘Realistically there are in fact probably only two or so weeks left to train for Dusi’s elite guys so there’s a lot to try cram in in that period but I’m comfortable with how things are going for me,’ said Birkett.
While the majority of the bigger Dusi names tackled the Highveld Croc, the Gauteng spectacle wasn’t the only pre-Dusi clash of the weekend.
The fourth member of the Fantastic Four quartet, Thulani Mbanjwa (Build it/William’s Hunt) raced his way to victory in the Fezela Hi-Q Challenge at Albert Falls Dam, overcoming a strong field in the process.
Andrew Houston finished a minute behind Mbanjwa, cementing the belief that he is definitely one to watch come February’s three day clash, while Murray Starr showed he is a strong Dusi top 20 candidate when he finished in third.
While many Dusi stars head to Underberg this weekend for the 2015 N3TC Drak Challenge, a few will have a keen eye on a strong showing at the Campbell’s to Dusi Bridge clash on Sunday 1 February, the next Dusi seeding race for the front two rows.

Results
Men
1 Andy Birkett 3hr 53min 52sec
2 Sbonelo Khwela 4.03.05
3 Lance Kime 4.05.32
4 Loveday Zondi 4.11.55
5 Banesti Nkhoesa 4.18.00
6 Siseko Ntondini 4.18.03
7 Kwanda Mhlophe 4:18.14
8 Richard Cele 4:18.32
9 Benjamin Bradford 4:22.38
10 Zonele Nzuza 4:23.11

Women
1 Jordan Peek 4:54.22
2 Hilary Bruss 4:57.12
3 Cana Peek (U18) 5:03.41


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