Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dusi, Day 1: Andy Birkett and Sibonelo Zondi want to set the race clear from the beginning

The A batch going through Earnie Pearce. Photo: Twitter @DusiCanoe
This morning started the 63rd edition of the Dusi Canoe Marathon, which this year takes place in K2, and has been a day full of action and news.

After an early departure (6 AM local time, 5 AM CET), among the 61 seeded K2s there were three clear favorites: Lance Kime and Thulani Mbajnwa; Jasper Mocke and Hank McGregor; and Andrew Birkett and Sibonelo Zondi . But last year's winner Lance Kime and his partner (also K2 winner) Thulani Mbanjwa, didn't have much time to enjoy the race. At Witness Weir, the second obstacle of the day just three kilometers from the start, they broke their K2, seeing themselves forced to a long stop for a quick repair and losing almost every chance for the title, except unexpected catastrophe on their rivals in the next two days.

So, right from the very first kilometers, everything pointed to a McGregor/Mocke vs Birkett/Zondi race, where the first ones set a blistering pace on the water.

Behind them, Cam Schoeman and Czech Jakub Adam just seemed to be the ones opening the rest of the race, with seconds, then minutes, falling upon them like a stone mile after mile.

Ahead, Mocke and McGregor imposed a strong pace until the put out of the first portage at Pine Tree. Maybe they intended to make things hard for Birkett and Zondi, much better at running. And it seemed that they had succeeded when at the Pine Tree uphill both couples remained running alongside. However, Birkett and Zondi just waited for the right time to attack. When it finally arrived, they forced the pace to allow them to get back into the water with a 30 second lead. Probably more comfortable now after recovering their breath, the difference quickly went up over a minute.

Birkett and Zondi negotiate Mission Rapid in the lead. Photo: Twitter @DusiCanoe

Far behind, there was a string of paddlers only fighting for third place, since the two couples in front seemed out of range already at half stage. Schoeman and Adam were those who led this "second race" with changing positions after each checkpoint in the top ten.

Finally, at Cabbage Tree portage , the hardest and steepest of the day, Birkett and Zondi imposed a continuous rhythm that smashed down the time second after second and were able to reach the finish line after 42 km with a time of 2h33'30 " less than a minute after the record of this first stage and putting 5'27 " on McGregor and Mocke to face day 2, which historically has always been more favorable to McGregor. Meanwhile, the winner in 2013, Lance Kime and his partner Thulani Mbanjwa, also K2 winner with the historic Martin Dreyer, barely got their K2 repaired based with duct tape and arrived in position 17th 25 minutes behind the leaders. Obviously, it's a giant gap to close, but it is very possible that after tuning their boat tonight (hard work today for the guys of Kayak Centre), they may be slowly coming back with an eye on the top ten.

Kime / Ulansky . Photo: Island Tribe
In the women's race, two clear favorites over other couples, formed by multiple winners Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky and the the aspiring new pair of Abby Adie and Czech world marathon silver medalist Anna Adamova. Their fight was much closer than that of men, at least for the first 30 kilometers, in which the marking was mutual and both the parts of river as well as the portages were made side by side. But already at Mission Rapid , Kime and Ulansky had a slight advantage, getting rid of their rivals and, once they were out of the wash, the difference quickly went up to one minute. Finally, Kime and Ulansky went in the finish line ahead with a slight advantage over Adie and Adamova, while young sisters Bianca and Tamika Haw came third, ahead of other couples apparanetly stronger like Hilary Pitchford Bruss and Alex Adie .

Tomorrow Friday, Day 2, 43 kilometers long, starting with a long portage shortly after departure, then the biggest rapids across the river (like the scary Washing Machine, the name says it all) and ending with a 15 tough final kilometers of flatwater at Inanda Dam, certainly ground for Mocke and McGregor to reduced distance with the lead, if the river doesn't turn everything upside down first.

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