With a week to go until the 71st edition of the MyLife Dusi Canoe Marathon, the unheralded crew of Sbonelo Khwela and Nqobile Makhanya announced themselves as podium threats last weekend.
The Euro Steel pair cruised their way to victory in the Parklane Spar Campbell’s Farm to Dusi Bridge race, the final hit-out before the Dusi next week, and with the win they put themselves firmly in the cross-hairs of the other podium hopefuls.
Despite a quiet build-up to this year’s edition of the race, former champion Khwela didn’t envisage it being that way as the pair ironed out the creases in their partnership before claiming overall honours on Sunday.
“We have definitely been trying to push every race and have been working hard to win but it just didn’t happen until last weekend,” Khwela said.
“We couldn’t get it right and throughout the season we have changed our plans and now we have settled on Nqobile driving the boat and me giving the power in the back.
“It is feeling good and we are happy with how things went on Sunday.”
Sunday’s race was the second of a busy weekend of racing with the Kindo Covers Dash ‘n Crash taking place on Saturday. This meant that there were a few notable absentees from the Campbell’s to Dusi Bridge field, something that Khwela considers when looking back at the win.
“Your big Dusi contenders like Thulani (Mbanjwa) and Msawenkosi (Mtolo) as well as Andy (Birkett) and Dave (Evans) didn’t race on Sunday so I am not going to look too deeply into the result.
“It was encouraging that we didn’t push ourselves and the other crews couldn’t keep up so we know that we are going in the right direction.
“We are feeling relaxed in the boat which is a good thing for us,” Khwela added.
At the Inanda Dam to Durban race Khwela and Makhanya finished in second place behind Birkett and Evans among a strong field of Dusi contenders. The race provided Khwela and Makhanya with a lot of confidence on a number of fronts.
“We were really happy to finish the race on Andy’s wave which shows we are hitting good form but without Burma Road now we were glad that our paddling was strong.
“We’ve been quiet for a long time and now to be back at the front is good and it’s exciting but it’s also been good because the other crews might not know where to attack us during the race.
“Our running is strong and we’ve worked hard on that but we’ve also worked a lot on our paddling which is now starting to show.
“It’s going to be a really exciting race and we’re happy with how we are going with a week to go until the Dusi,” an upbeat Khwela mentioned.