The two 2023 Dusi Canoe Marathon pre-race favourites, Andy Birkett and Christie Mackenzie, tightened their grips on the men’s and women’s title races respectively when they both powered to stage wins on Friday at Inanda Dam.
The second stage of the Dusi is often the make-or-break day for many title contenders, with big water and tough portages, as well as a long flatwater stretch on Inanda Dam to deal with, however, this year’s race threw an extra portage at paddlers for their safety.
A significant element to Friday’s stage was the fact that even for an eighteen-time Dusi finisher like Euro Steel’s Birkett, there was something new to experience.
“I’ve never paddled day two with this much water,” Birkett said. “After the start there was one compulsory portage at the confluence of the Mngeni and Msundusi Rivers for about two-and-a-half kilometres, which changed my race plan from previous years.
“Usually I would start flat-out on day two, but I was more conservative in my approach because I knew that with a long portage like that, it can make you tired towards the end of the stage.
“I wanted to be fresh by the time we got to the big rapids, because when you are tired you make mistakes.”
Msawenkosi Mtolo, who finished second behind Birkett, made a bold charge early in the stage to make up the minute gap that Birkett held overnight.
The pair traded blows throughout the first half of the stage before the Nqumeni portage, where Birkett got a slight gap on the Team MyLife star.
From there Mtolo tried to push the pace, which resulted in a mistake at Hippo Rapid where he fell out of his boat and gave Birkett a further advantage as he powered his way ahead and opened up a significant gap on the Inanda Dam stretch.
Ultimately Birkett’s lead grew to over seven minutes by the end of the stage as Birkett consciously made an effort to put in a charge when he hit the flat water.
“I always say that you can make a lot more time in the last hour than in the first hour with a small adjustment to the efforts, so it’s always a goal to have something in the tank by the time you get to the dam.
“I wasn’t sure of the gap and I was trying to do some time splits, but I just tried to put my head down and get into a good rhythm,” Birkett added.
One of the big changes in the men’s race from day one to day two was the inhabitant of the final step of the podium. Sandile Mtolo shocked many to claim third on day one, however, a swim saw him cascade down the leader board to finish in twentieth on the day and slip to twelfth overall.
This opened the door for Euro Steel’s Dave Evans to post the second fastest time of the day and move up from fourth into third place going into the final stage.
The women’s race has ballooned into a potential procession as Mackenzie’s overnight lead of over thirteen minutes was extended to a mammoth 26 minutes at the end of the second stage.
With a significant lead under her belt, Mackenzie feels that she doesn’t need to take any risks going into the third and final stage on Saturday.
“To be able to opt for a portage around Hippo rather than risk shooting it was something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I didn’t have my buffer from Thursday,” Mackenzie said.
“It is nice to have a bit of time so I can make my own decisions going into day three, because I don’t know what it holds, but I’m sure the organisers will make good calls if we need to portage anything.
“I’ll race my own race and see how I feel as I approach the different rapids and hopefully have a good day.
“I feel that being a more mature racer will help me keep a cool, calm head on Saturday.”
The race for second in the women’s division was a topsy-turvy affair as Hartley and Jordan Peek traded places until the former put the hammer down on the flat water into the finish to claim back-to-back second place finishes.
Peek ended third and consolidated her bronze medal position.
In the under 23 men’s race things changed as Dave Evans moved into pole position ahead of Scott Little in second and Hamish Mackenzie in third.
The Junior men’s race sees Smilo Mthethwa and Asibabale Mpambani finish two stages with the same time and will have a straight sprint to Durban to see the winner of the junior race. Greg Palframan is in third in the Under 18 men’s race.
Shannon Parker-Dennison is the leading women in the Under 23 women’s race and is comfortably ahead of Tinyiko Mahwayi in second.
Emma Hatfield holds a slender lead in the Junior women’s race over Rachel van Deventer, while Lesedi Bobo is in third.
The third and final stage of the Dusi Canoe Marathon will take paddlers 36km from Msinsi Resort at Inanda Dam to Blue Lagoon.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – 2023 Dusi Canoe Marathon (Stage Two – Dusi Bridge to Msinsi Resort at Inanda Dam)
1. Andy Birkett 02:57:53 04:51:53
2. Msawenkosi Mtolo 03:04:27 04:59:31
3. David Evans (U23) 03:02:14 05:00:59
4. Banetse Nkhoesa 03:04:36 05:03:24
5. Scott Little (U23) 03:06:41 05:07:42
6. Thulani Mbanjwa 03:11:05 05:12:39
7. Hamish Mackenzie (U23) 03:09:23 05:16:44
8. Nqobile Makhanya 03:11:29 05:16:45
9. Bongani Ntinga 03:11:48 05:20:11
10. Jeremy Maher (U23) 03:15:01 05:20:15
11. Thabani Msia 03:08:36 05:20:16
12. Sandile Mtolo (U23) 03:23:00 05:20:17
13. Ross Leslie (U23) 03:12:23 05:25:52
14. Hlelani Radebe 03:20:21 05:27:29
15. Matthew Fenn (U23) 03:24:32 05:28:10
16. Mvelo Ngidi 03:21:06 05:29:54
17. Sanele Mbanjwa 03:19:52 05:34:50
18. Mmeli Cele 03:20:45 05:34:52
19. Jabulani Gwamanda 03:25:49 05:34:53
20. Christie Mackenzie 03:22:01 05:34:58
1. Christie Mackenzie 03:22:01 05:34:58
2. Bridgitte Hartley 03:35:07 06:01:55
3. Jordan Peek 03:42:44 06:09:56
4. Hilary Bruss 03:49:06 06:22:58
5. Nix Birkett 03:49:46 06:28:53
6. Shannon Parker-Dennison (U23) 03:55:40 06:36:56
7. Emma Hatfield (U18) 04:03:04 06:44:22
8. Rachel Van Deventer (U18) 04:00:46 06:44:34
9. Lorna Oliver 04:52:38 08:03:07
10. Tinyiko Mahwayi (U23) 04:59:48 08:13:50
Under 23 Men
1. David Evans 03:02:14 05:00:59
2. Scott Little 03:06:41 05:07:42
3. Hamish Mackenzie 03:09:23 05:16:44
4. Jeremy Maher 03:15:01 05:20:15
5. Sandile Mtolo 03:23:00 05:20:17
Under 23 Women
1. Shannon Parker-Dennison 03:55:40 06:36:56
2. Tinyiko Mahwayi 04:59:48 08:13:50
Under 18 Men
1. Smilo Mthethwa 03:32:00 05:46:39
2. Asibabale Mpambani 03:29:49 05:46:39
3. Greg Palframan 03:39:07 06:00:03
4. Robert Butcher 03:37:25 06:03:13
5. Sabelo Nyembe 03:49:21 06:16:38
Under 18 Women
1. Emma Hatfield 04:03:04 06:44:22
2. Rachel van Deventer 04:00:46 06:44:34
3. Lesedi Bobo 05:19:39 08:50:44