As the newly formed Dusi Series kicked off with the Clanfin Umpetha Challenge on Sunday, seasoned MyLife Dusi Canoe Marathon star Thulani Mbanjwa showed that he is still a force to be reckoned with when he won the race.
The Umpetha Challenge ends uniquely on a portage and the race came down to two paddlers heading into the finish at the Bishopstowe Hall. Mbanajwa and Under 23 star David Evans fought it out up the final hill to the finish.
Team MyLife’s Mbanjwa was eventually too strong for the youngster and gave him a win that puts a target firmly on his back as one to watch for the Dusi in the middle of February.
2020 K2 Dusi Canoe Marathon champion Khumbulani Nzimande finished in third place overall one minute and 40 seconds behind the race winner.
The Umpetha was the first real chance for paddlers to stretch their legs on the Dusi’s first portage and although Mbanjwa made it look comfortable his body was saying otherwise.
“That portage is always tough and I wanted to walk at a stage but when I saw Dave in front of me I had to carry on,” Mbanjwa said. “It’s one of the first big portages of the season so there is a lot of work to do after that.
“I am now moving into my serious running training with trail runs and runs with my boat so it was good to see where I am from that perspective.”
Mbanjwa has a K2 winners medal to his name but has never been able to break the stronghold of Andy Birkett over the K1 Dusi title. He isn’t in the business of putting himself under unnecessary pressure.
“To win the Dusi would be incredible but I just go out and try and do the best that I can.
“When you start your Dusi training that motivation comes back and it really brings the best out of me.
“To be part of the new Team MyLife I want to do as well as I can for the team at next year’s Dusi,” he added.
The Dusi Series is going to be another exciting element that will give those that might not be in the running to win the Dusi a chance to do well over the four race series.
“The new series gives the guys some brilliant motivation to do well in the races leading up to the Dusi, and not just from a seeding perspective.
“The points will be important for everyone over the next few months which will make the racing even more exciting,” Mbanjwa stated.
In the women’s race at the Umpetha Challenge it was Jenna Ward who stole the show against a small field of competitors.
Ward has never won the Dusi and it seems that she might be putting in a big effort this season to try and get that elusive winners medal.
She finished ahead of young under 18 paddler Hannah Bruni while Tracey van Greunen finished in third.
The 2021 MyLife Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from 18-20 February 2021.