A full Msundusi River and some courageous running saw the race favourites overshadowed on the first stage of the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon on Thursday as Sbonelo Khwela and Tamika Haw took the men’s and women’s stage one line honours at Dusi Bridge on Thursday.
It was a traditionally frantic start to A Batch with multiple marathon world champion Hank McGregor leading the race through the first handful of obstacles until he arrived at Taxi Rapid, where the Euro Steel star fell out of his boat after hitting a rock and broke the foot rest in the boat.
Pre-race favourite Andy Birkett took control of the stage on the first portage of the day, however it was the flying Khwela who put him under huge pressure and managed to pass him on the Campbell’s Farm portage.
“I am happy that I won day one, it is something that I have never done before,” the Euro Steel/Red Bull star Khwela said.
“After the year that I have had, to be able to be out here racing against the likes of Andy (Birkett), Hank (McGregor) and Thulani (Mbanjwa) is great and I am grateful for the chance.”
Tactically Khwela tried to keep it as simple as possible because his approach to the first stage has not paid off in the past.
“I just tried to take today as it came,” he explained. “Andy is always so strong on day one and I just went out there and looked after my own race and it paid off. I am so happy that I have managed to win day one.”
It wasn’t completely clean sailing for the former K2 champion as he, along with a number of other paddlers picked up a mechanical at Taxi Rapid.
“I bent my rudder pretty badly at Taxi and I had to drop back a bit but at the portage I managed to get it straightened out.
“On the portage I didn’t panic and got my rhythm back and made my way through the field.
“I was surprised to see how well I went on the run!” he added.
Birkett spent a lot of the day chasing Khwela, however he was not disappointed by his performance on Thursday’s opening day.
“It was flawless by Dusi standards,” the Euro Steel star said with a smile at the end.
“I’ve made many mistakes on this river it’s just that a lot of the time no one sees them!
“I just have to make sure that I stay calm and focused for the next two days.”
Euro Steel’s Thulani Mbanjwa made third position his own when he came through just under four minutes ahead of the impressive Khumbulani Nzimande in fourth while Under 18 star David Evans rounded out the top five.
The women’s race was also laced with drama as pre-race favourite Christie Mackenzie came unstuck in a rapid, which handed the lead to the former K2 podium finisher Tamika Haw.
Haw managed to hold on to her lead to the finish, despite Mackenzie making a strong push on the Cabbage Tree portage and Mackenzie finished just 32 seconds behind the stage winner.
Leading the Dusi is something that is fairly foreign to Haw despite her podium pedigree.
“It’s incredible to be in the lead after today but I just have to go hard again tomorrow,” Haw said.
“I have trained really hard for this and have had Owen (Gandar) as my coach and we have been doing the Shongweni Dice which I think is the best dice in the build up to Dusi.
“When I got past Christie I just knew I had to go as hard as I can to the finish.”
The women’s race lead changed hands on a number of occasions and it seemed like Mackenzie held all the cards, however the swim cost her the lead and she was unable to make up the time she lost.
The ladies race is shaping up to be a two horse race with Jenna Ward back in third, 13 minutes behind Mackenzie going into the second stage of the race.
An exciting race unfolding is the men’s Under 23 showdown. The top five under 23 paddlers all finished between ninth and fourteenth on the day.
Alan Houston is currently leading the age category, however just three minutes separates him from Mvelo Ngidi in fifth under 23.
From a juniors perspective David Evans and Amy Peckett lead their respective categories. Evans is currently placed fifth overall while Peckett was the fifth ladies boat over the line.
Kwandokuhle Mzolo is the leading under 16 paddler going into the second stage on Friday.
Stage two of the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon takes paddlers 42km from the overnight stop at Dusi Bridge to Msinsi Resport at Inanda Dam on Friday.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon Stage One (Camps Drift – Dusi Bridge)
1.Sbonelo Khwela 2:38:37
2.Andy Birkett 2:39:57
3.Thulani Mbanjwa 2:44:11
4.Khumbulani Nzimande 2:48:10
5.David Evans (U18) 2:48:20
6.Carl Folscher 2:50:29
7.Banetse Nkhoesa 2:51:29
9.Andrew Houston 2:51:35
10.Alan Houston (U23) 2:53:17
11.Mpilo Zondi (U23) 2:53:23
12.Stewart Little (U23) 2:56:17
13.Mvelo Ngidi (U23) 2:56:18
14.Maswenkosi Mtolo (U23) 2:56:24
15.Lucas Mthalane 2:56:33
1.Tamika Haw 3:21:22
2.Christie Mackenzie (U23) 3:21:54
3.Jenna Ward 3:34:39
4.Amy Peckett (U18) 3:35:28
5.Nikki Birkett 3:41:05
6.Tracey Oellermann (U23) 3:53:56
7.Shannon Parker-Dennison (U18) 3:54:10
8.Cara Waud (U18) 3:55:20
9.Melissa van Rooyen 4:07:33
10.Amanda Spires (U18) 4:16:29
Under 23 Men
1.Alan Houston 2:53:17
2.Mpilo Zondi 2:53:23
3.Stewart Little 2:56:17
4.Mvelo Ngidi 2:56:18
5.Maswenkosi Mtolo 2:56:24
Under 23 Women
1.Christie Mackenzie 3:21:54
2.Tracey Oellermann 3:53:56
3.Shannon Parker-Dennison (U18) 3:54:10
Under 18 Boys
1.David Evans 2:48:20
2.Scott Little 3:06:32
3.Hamish Mackenzie 3:06:58
4.Ross Leslie 3:10:32
5.Wongame Makasi 3:16:41
Under 18 Girls
1.Amy Peckett 3:35:28
2.Shannon Parker-Dennison 3:54:10
3.Cara Waud 3:55:20
Under 16 Boys
1.Kwandokuhle Mzolo 3:!6:19
2.Matthew Millward 3:16:49
3.Sandile Mbanjwa 3:17:42