The second and most challenging stage of the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon gave supporters clarity on the men’s race with Andy Birkett coming to the fore, however the women’s race remains a mystery with just two seconds separating stage winner Christie Mackenzie and Tamika Haw.
The 42km stage is often seen as a paddlers day and overnight leader Sbonelo Khwela would have known that his Euro Steel team mate Birkett was going to hunt him down. He might not have thought that it was going to happen so quickly, though.
By the time the two had reached the Saddles portage Birkett had almost erased the deficit with just 27 seconds separating the two. At Gauging Weir Khwela’s lead had all but been erased and Birkett was on the charge.
“I just felt good today and got into a good rhythm nice and early,” the eight-time Dusi champion Birkett said.
“I must have caught up about 30 seconds in the first five minutes of the day. I kept on catching him through the rapids not on the flats which was quite surprising.
“The body felt good and I ran well on Ngumeni portage and I surprised myself by how I managed to keep up with Sbonelo (Khwela) all the way.”
On the other side of Ngumeni lies the infamous big three rapids, Thombi specifically has caught Birkett in the past, but this year he managed the obstacles and paddled away from the chasing Khwela.
“I got a slight gap at Hippo and from there I just put my head down and went hard to the finish.”
Having to hold Birkett off was always going to be a tough as for Euro Steel/Red Bull’s Khwela and despite having a near flawless day, the former K2 champion had to settle for second place.
“I knew that there was a good chance that Andy was going to catch me today,” he said.
“Today (Friday) is always a long day and we know that it is a paddlers day but I was happy with my effort and that I didn’t make any mistakes.
“Andy was super strong and consistent, he was very good today.”
Khwela knew that he had to try and delay Birkett catching him for as long as possible and after the pair were neck and neck for a large portion of the day until Birkett got ahead just before the dam.
“I wanted to keep a steady pace even when Andy caught me, I didn’t want to get too excited and paddle too hard.
“I just tried to stay with him but at Hippo he put the hammer down and I couldn’t keep up.
“So I thought that I mustn’t go hard because a mistake could let the guys behind me catch up,” Khwela added.
It was a lonely day for Euro Steel’s Thulani Mbanjwa who spent the entire day on his own but managed to consolidate his third place, just under 15 minutes behind Birkett.
A really exciting race for the rest of the top five is brewing with under 18 star David Evans, Andrew Houston, Khumbulani Nzimande and Carl Folscher all coming across the line together.
The women’s contest has become one of the closest of modern times with just two seconds separating day two winner Christie Mackenzie and Tamika Haw.
It was a see-saw battle that saw the lead change hands on a number of occasions with Euro Steel/Varsity College’s Mackenzie leaving the door ajar for the opportunist Haw, who took her chances well.
Two swims for Mackenzie let Haw back into the contest; however Haw showed her mettle to grind back onto the group with Mackenzie on the Inanda Dam stretch to finish on her tail.
“I think I put a bit more pressure on myself today because I hoped that I would have more time on my hands by this stage before the race,” Mackenzie said.
“The pressure might have led to the swims but when we were on Ngumeni I just wanted to pace myself so I kept the same pace as Tamika the whole way.
“I just felt that I had to keep it together and I am banking on tomorrow being my day!”
Haw is in unchartered K1 territory but she continues to prove that she deserves her place at the front.
“We were neck and neck for a lot of the day and right before the dam I spun out and lost Christie but luckily I had a wave on the dam that helped me reconnect to Christie to the finish.
“I was hoping that I would be in this position but I didn’t expect it so I’m just going to go as hard as I can tomorrow!” Haw said.
Jenna Ward is in third place in the ladies race just under 20 minutes behind the leading ladies.
Euro Steel’s Alan Houston continues to lead the Under 23 showdown with Stewart Little trailing by just under one and a half minutes and Mpilo Zondi a further minute and 15 seconds behind Little.
Maritzburg College’s Evans has been impressive as he pushes for a famous top five finish as a junior.
The next best junior is his Maritzburg College team mate Hamish Mackenzie 26 minutes behind him and Scott Little in third.
In the ladies age group contest Mackenzie leads the Under 23 age category with Tracey Oellerman the next under 23 and sixth overall in the women’s race.
Amy Peckett is the leading junior girl in fourth in the ladies race with Cara Waud and Shannon Parker-Dennison in second and third.
The third and final stage of the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon takes paddlers 32km from Msinsi Resort at Inanda Dam to Blue Lagoon in Durban.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon Stage Two – Dusi Bridge to Msinsi Resort
1.Andy Birkett 2:58:27 5:38:25
2.Sbonelo Khwela 3:04:48 5:43:25
3.Thulani Mbanjwa 3:09:03 5:53:15
4.David Evans (U18) 3:09:58 5:58:18
5.Khumbulani Nzimande 3:10:08 5:58:19
6.Andrew Houston 3:06:44 5:58:19
7.Carl Folscher 3:07:50 5:58:20
8.Alan Houston (U23) 3:08:51 6:02:09
9.Stewart Little (U23) 3:07:16 6:03:33
10.Mpilo Zondo (U23) 3:11:22 6:04:45
11.Hank McGregor 3:03:49 6:07:36
12.Owen Gandar 3:12:10 6:08:49
13.Banetse Nkhoesa 3:19:49 6:11:18
14.Maswenkosi Mtolo (U23) 3:15:18 6:11:43
15.Shaun Rubenstein 3:15:29 6:14:37
1.Christie Mackenzie (U23) 3:37:38 6:59:32
2.Tamika Haw 3:38:12 6:59:34
3.Jenna Ward 3:44:43 7:19:23
4.Amy Peckett (U18) 3:47:09 7:22:37
5.Nikki Birkett 3:50:58 7:32:03
Under 23 Men
1.Alan Houston 3:08:51 6:02:09
2.Stewart Little 3:07:16 6:03:33
3.Mpilo Zondo 3:11:22 6:04:45
4.Maswenkosi Mtolo 3:15:18 6:11:43
5.Thabani Msia 3:18:26 6:22:53
Under 23 Women
1.Christie Mackenzie 3:37:38 6:59:32
2.Amy Peckett (U18) 3:47:09 7:22:37
3.Tracey Oellerman 4:06:43 8:00:39
Under 18 Boys
1.David Evans 3:09:58 5:58:18
2.Hamish Mackenzie 3:18:44 6:25:42
3.Scott Little 3:32:21 6:38:54
Under 18 Girls
1.Amy Peckett 3:47:09 7:22:37
2.Cara Waud 4:11:33 8:06:54
3.Shannon Parker-Dennison 4:24:27 8:18:38
Under 16 Boys
1.Matthew Millward 3:26:52 6:43:42
2.Kwandokhule Mzolo 3:32:26 6:48:46
3.Sandile Mbanjwa 3:49:31 7:07:13