Dusi champion Sbonelo Khwela and his Shongweni protégée Banetsi Nkhoesa ran to victory in the lucrative Umpetha Challenge canoe race on Sunday and in the process laid down an ominous marker at the start of the FNB Dusi season.
The Team Euro Steel/Red Bull duo backed their running ability on the tough final 2,5 kilometre climb from the uMsundusi River to Bishopstowe Hall to prevail in their three boat tussle with former Dusi champs Andy Birkett and Jason Graham and the new crew of Len Jenkins and Siseko Ntondini.
The three boats were locked together during the flatwater lap across Camps Drift and down the Ernie Pearce and Commercial Road weirs, where the three boats shot the narrow fish chute side by side, resulting in Jenkins and Ntondini getting stuck in the reeds on the right, allowing the other two contenders to get away.
By the time they started the long portage up Campbell’s Farm that ends the race, Jenkins and Ntondini had rejoined the front group after a gusty fight back, and tried to make an early break on the tough uphill portage.
It proved to be foolish in the hot conditions, with the temperatures on course reaching 41 degrees, and they blew spectacularly, allowing the measured Khwela and Nkhoesa to ease into the lead and canter home to a convincing win, with Birkett and Graham a distant second.
“Everything went 100% according to plan,” said Khwela. “We wanted to stay with the other guys on the water and then make a gap on the uphill part of the portage, which is what happened.”
The win was a significant one for Nkoesa, who was cherry-picked by Khwela for the FNB Dusi 2016 campaign.
“It’s the hardest thing you can do, to try to run behind Sbonelo Khwela!” said Nkoesa.
“I have always wanted to race at the highest level, and I knew that running behind Sbonelo I was going to die today, but it was worth it.”
The women’s race fell predictably to the crew of Jenna Ward and Abby Solms, a combination cobbled together to assist both women who won’t be able to paddle with their Dusi partners until the new year.
The pair had to ensure they didn’t get caught up in any of frantic racing typical of in the seeded A batch, and wisely settled into their rhythm just behind the bulk of the first batch paddlers.
“I must admit that I was a little bit nervous starting with the seeded men, but Jenna and I managed to stay free of the carnage and then settled into a nice batch with a few of the guys,” said Solms.
“It was great paddling with Abby today,” said Ward, the Under 23 double-bronze medallist at the world marathon championships. “She knows just what to do on the river, and to have her pushing me up the hill at the end was an added bonus.”
The pair will retain their combination for the upcoming Ozzie Gladwin presented by Parklane SuperSpar before they square up against each other for the FNB Dusi in February.
Schoolgirls Cana Peek (Euro steel) and Kyeta Purchase scooped the runner-up birth in the women’s race.
the race is run with the robust support of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation, as part of a broader programme to develop elite athletes, organisational skills transfer, and promoting participation in sporting events in the province.
More information can be found at http://www.umpethachallenge.co.za
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
1. Sbonelo Khwela/Banesti Nkhoesa 1:13:30.01
2. Andy Birkett/Jason Graham 1:14:10.64
3. Lucas Mthalane/Mpilo Zondi 1:15:15.13
4. Len Jenkins jnr/Siseko Ntondini 1:16:10.17
5. Shaun Rubenstein/Thulani Mbanjwa 1:16:21.00
6. Alan Houston/Mthobisi Cele 1:18:02.35 (1st u23)
7. Mmeli Cele/Khumbulani Nzimande 1:18:50.24 (2nd u23)
8. Kwanda Mhlope/Sipho Canham 1:19:31.07
9. Raymond Radebe/Mlandeni Radebe 1:21:27.98 (3rd u23)
10. Thomas Lovemore/Pqaulos Shozi 1:22:08.14 (4th u23)
11. Thabani Msia/Mswawenkosi Mtolo 1:22:48.47 (1st u18)
1. Abby Solms/Jenna Ward 1:26:17.45
2. Cana Peek/Kyeta Purchase 1:34:30.14 (1st u18)
1. Jean Hackland/James Hackland 1:35:55.70
2. Anke Malan/Shaun Dias 1:36:12.60
3. Debbie Germiquet/Marc Germiquet 1:38:27.90