|Birkett & Zondi, winners. Photo: Stuart Berry|
The third and final stage, held again under a very hot weather, followed the script laid down after the first two days, where Birkett and Zondi had almost nine minutes on their closest rivals, Jasper Mocke and Hank McGregor. The accident in Day 1 by Lance Kime and Thulani Mbanjwa, who were part of the three candidates for the title, made the victory a matter of two.
Birkett and Zondi started with conservative tactics, thanks to the big advantage that they had. Ahead, 36 kilometers to the finish line in Durban, with a first part of about 5km on the flatwater of Inanda Dam to enter after the portage down the wall in the clear waters of the Umgeni river, where rapids as Tops Needle or Pumphouse, and especially the Burma Road optional portage, usually mark the course of the race.
Birkett and Zondi continued their hammering pace of the two previous days. Behind , the question was who would take the decision, always risky, of not running the Burma Road portage and paddle down the series of rapids around the hill, that can give some time advantage... provided that yo can go out of them in one piece. Names like "Graveyard" help to think about it twice.
The first five kayaks passed without much problem Tops Needle, until the group of four boats from 6th to 9th positions had to shoot it all together. The veteran Jacques Theron and his partner Shaun Griffin couldn't find a safe line and broke their kayak in two. Bad luck for them, but for others a new lesson in the determination and sportsmanship I've always admired in the South Africans. Without thinking it twice, each took a portion of the boat and started what is perhaps the longest portage in History, running down the road more than 25 kilometers to the finish, where they came three hours after the winners and, as mandatory, they went thorugh the finish loine on their boat, as shown in the picture below. Hats off!
|Jacques Theron and Shaun Griffin at the end of their epic final stage. Photo: Dusi|
Ahead , the distances were maintained and were too large to make relevant in this case the decision about Burma Road portage (except in the case of women, with just one minute and a half gap between the first two crews) . However, Cam Schoeman and Jakub Adam did take the risk and went into the river rapids. No longer hoping to catch Mocke and McGregor (who portaged as did Birkett and Zondi), but rather to try to protect themselves from Lance Kime and Thulani Mbanjwa, who had already made it to the fourth position overpassing Mhlophe and Nzuza and already had their sight set on the final podium to culminate an impressive comeback.
|McGregor and Mocke at Pumphouse Rapid. PHoto: Dusi|
After the long portage Burma, Birkett and Zondi chose not to risk and portage Pumphouse Dam, about 100 meters before the rapid of the same name, definitely having in mind Zondi's drama last year, when he capsized when leading the race and was overpassed by lance Kime while trying to recover his boat, watching the single's title fly away. Finally, at the Blue Lagoon in Durban, Birkett and Zondi arrived victorious among the cheering of the crowd. 10'09" later came McGregor and Mocke, who, after spending a few troubles at Pumphouse Rapid and be about to spin the boat upstream, arrived in a well deserved second place. Schoeman and Jakub Adam from Czech Republic retained their third place and shortly after entered in fourth Kime and Mbanjwa.
Women's race was much tighter. Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky departed with 1'35" ahead of Abby Adie and Anna Adamova, who had a strong finish on the second stage partly closing what they had lost at mid-stage. This time, they were within the required distance to make decisive the decision to portage Burma or not. However, surprisingly for a few and disappointingly for many, they followed Kime and Ulansky by the long, steep portage of Burma, maybe not willing to risk a broken boat and relying on their greater boost in flatwater in the final 5km at Blue Lagoon.
|Kime and Ulansky after their new victory. Photo: Dusi|
Third in this stage were Jen Theron and Swarbbreck, but being released the rest of the seeded women in the B batch, the overall times made them finally fifth, being the third place on the final podium for sisters Bianca and Tamika Haw. Fourth were Hilary Pitchford Bruss and Alex Adie.
By the time the final results are available, we will post a link right here.