After a shorter, but more intense, first stage of the 2023 Dusi Canoe Marathon, favourites Andy Birkett and Christie Mackenzie took the stage honours in contrasting races on Thursday.
With the adjusted start at Bishopstowe Country Club, paddlers started with a portage where Team MyLife’s Msawenkosi Mtolo took the initiative and raced to an early lead.
Birkett put in after that initial portage in fifth place, but the twelve-time champion slowly picked off the field to hit the Geoff’s Road portage alongside Mtolo at the front of the race.
The pair were together for the majority of the remainder of the stage, until the Cabbage Tree portage where Birkett opened a small but significant gap and maintained it to finish a minute ahead of Mtolo.
Despite the reduced distance, Birkett didn’t feel like the stage was any less taxing.
“It was a shorter stage, being two hours as opposed to three, but nonetheless it was a tough stage,” Birkett said.
“It was a very quick stage and guys like Msawe (Mtolo) took off at the start which was a shock to the system, but I enjoyed it out there and stuck to my plan and then got a gap at Cabbage Tree.”
Birkett’s conservative approach to the early stages of the races came after an important pre-race conversation.
“I was chatting to one of the guys before the start and they said you can’t win the race on the first portage, but you can lose it.
“You can injury yourself, or you can twist your ankle, so I had to try and take a conservative approach in the early stages because I knew that I could make up time lost there.
“Dusi is a three-day race and it’s a race of consistency, so I’ll try and hold it together on day two,” the ten-time defending champion mentioned.
Msawenkosi Mtolo had a strong day in the boat and proved his Dusi credentials after a solid pre-Dusi season. His result wasn’t a surprise to him, but he knows he’s got his work cut out for him to hold off his brother Sandile who finished third.
It was a strong paddle from Sandile who managed to shake off Banetse Nkhoesa during the stage to claim his first podium stage finish.
The women’s race was decidedly more one-sided as Mackenzie put in a dominant display that saw her lead from start to finish.
Euro Steel’s Mackenzie is hunting down a third consecutive Dusi title and holds a lead of over ten minutes on Bridgitte Hartley in second with Jordan Peek in third after Thursday’s opening stage.
After relocating to Durban and taking on a new coach, Mackenzie feels that these changes have facilitated more changes to her paddling.
“I think that I executed my race plan to perfection today,” Mackenzie said. “In the past I would think about the other girls on the start line, and I was told by my coach to just focus on what I know how to do.
“The changes have definitely helped me be more calm in the river, but I think that the portage at the start helped because it didn’t feel like Dusi … it felt like another Saturday pre-Dusi race.
“Nerves were really low this morning and I was very pleased with how it went.”
For second placed Hartley, her performance exceeded her expectations.
“It’s a really nice surprise to finish where I did, mainly because I thought that from the start I would go at my own pace and I was able to pick off the girls slowly,” Hartley said.
“When we put in after the first portage I knew that I just needed to catch third and at Guinea Fowl I caught third, and so I just wanted to put my head down on Cabbage Tree and paddling around worked out for me.”
The second and longest stage of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes paddlers on a tough 44km route from Dusi Bridge to Msinsi Resort at Inanda Dam on Friday.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – 2023 Dusi Canoe Marathon (Stage One Bishopstowe Country Club-Dusi Bridge)
1. Andy Birkett 01:53:59
2. Msawenkosi Mtolo 01:55:03
3. Sandile Mtolo (U23) 01:57:17
4. David Evans (U23) 01:58:45
5. Banetse Nkhoesa 01:58:48
6. Scott Little (U23) 02:01:01
7. Thulani Mbanjwa 02:01:34
8. Matthew Fenn (U23) 02:03:38
9. Jeremy Maher (U23) 02:05:13
10. Nqobile Makhanya 02:05:15
11. Hlelani Radebe 02:07:08
12. Hamish Mackenzie (U23) 02:07:21
13. Bongani Ntinga 02:08:22
14. Mvelo Ngidi 02:08:48
15. Jabulani Gwamanda 02:09:04
16. Thabani Msia 02:11:39
17. Robert Crichton 02:12:04
18. Christie Mackenzie 02:12:57
19. Musawenkosi Zimu (U23) 02:13:15
20. Ross Leslie (U23) 02:13:29
1. Christie Mackenzie 02:12:57
2. Bridgitte Hartley 02:26:47
3. Jordan Peek 02:27:12
4. Hilary Bruss 02:33:52
5. Nix Birkett 02:39:07
6. Shannon Parker-Dennison (U23) 02:41:16
7. Emma Hatfield (U18) 02:41:18
8. Rachel Van Deventer (U18) 02:43:47
9. Jessica Behn (U18) 02:48:17
10. Nosipho Mthembu (U23) 03:00:28
Under 23 Men
1. Sandile Mtolo 01:57:17
2. David Evans 01:58:45
3. Scott Little 02:01:01
4. Matthew Fenn 02:03:38
5. Jeremy Maher 02:05:13
Under 23 Women
1. Shannon Parker-Dennison 02:41:16
2. Nosipho Mthembu 03:00:28
3. Tinyiko Mahwayi 03:08:25
Under 18 Men
1. Smilo Mthethwa 02:14:38
2. Asibabale Mpambani 02:16:50
3. Greg Palframan 02:20:55
4. Robert Butcher 02:25:48
5. Sabelo Nyembe 02:27:16
Under 18 Women
1. Emma Hatfield 02:41:18
2. Rachel Van Deventer 02:43:47
3. Jessica Behn 02:48:17