Pietermaritzburg – Msawenkosi Mtolo and Sbonelo Khwela will be looking to complete a perfect build-up to the Dusi Canoe Marathon this weekend when they take to the water in the final two preparation races over the entire first half of the three-day race route.
Recent flood-enforced calendar changes, mean Dusi canoeists can enjoy a final weekend of preparations under race conditions on both Saturday and Sunday, and the Mtolo and Khwela crew have firmly established themselves as the combination to beat.
Due to flood conditions two weeks ago, the SMG 50-Miler was moved to Saturday and sees paddlers taking on the Dusi Bridge to Mfula Store section of the river, while Sunday’s Kayak Craft Bisphostowe to Dusi Bridge race covers almost the entire opening day of the three-day classic which takes place on February 15-17.
Mtolo and Khwela made it two from two in Dusi preparation races with narrow wins over Siseko Ntondini and Banetse Nkhoesa in both the Kindo Covers Ozzie Gladwin and the Geoff’s Road to Second Saddles races last month.
With the 13-time race winner Andy Birkett and his young Eastern Cape partner Matthew Fenn not competing in the Dusi preparation races, it has been left to the 2023 runner up, Mtolo, and his partner to dominate the pre-Dusi season and claim the pre-race favourite tag.
However, Ntondini and Nkhoesa are clearly not far behind and they will be desperate to upset the race favourites at one, or both, of this weekend’s events and gain a vital psychological lift before the all-important three-day race in two weeks time.
In the women’s race things are a little less clear. 2023 Dusi champ Christie Mackenzie has opted out of the Dusi as she focuses on preparations for international events in 2024.
In contrast, former Olympic medallist Bridgitte Hartley retired from international sprinting last year and after her second place in the women’s Dusi last year will be aiming for her first victory in the three-day classic with Hilary Bruss.
A win and a second place finish so far this year in the Dusi preparation races makes Hartley and Bruss the favourites so far, with Ozzie Galdwin winners Abby Solms and Jessica Behn potential challengers.
For Dusi paddlers still a little short on preparation for the Dusi on February 15-17, this weekend provides a great final weekend of high-intensity training, and a chance to get in some river time while “tripping” the route up to Inanda Dam.
These two events are also the final two races in the John Oliver Dusi Series before the series finale, the Dusi itself. Anybody who finishes all five races in the series will be presented with a John Oliver medal when they complete the Dusi.
Entries are via the Canoeing SA entry portal at https://paddler.canoesa.com/ Entries will close for the SMG 50 Miler at 6pm on Friday and on Saturday at 6pm for the Kayak Craft Bishopstowe to Dusi Bridge race.