Drama unfolded behind Andy Birkett and Abby Solms as the race for second place in the FNB Dusi Marathon heated up, with both the men’s and the women’s race’s podiums receiving a shake-up before the finish at Inanda Dam on Friday.
Paddlers knew that the second stage of the three-day journey was going to be as tough, with the 10km stretch along Inanda Dam not providing any favours due to water levels being so low.
When race leader Euro Steel’s Andy Birkett (pictured above) set off at 6am on Friday morning he had a four-minute advantage over Sbonelo Khwela. However, the 26-year-old refused to rule out the option that Khwela might make up the deficit.
‘I convinced myself at one stage that Sbonelo was right on my tail,’ Birkett quipped. ‘It was good motivation to get me through, but when I got to Nqumeni I was ready to get in my car and go home.
‘Worrying about Sbonelo was good for motivation, but I was paddling scared all day with these guys chasing me down.’
Birkett’s endeavours through the stage were beyond comprehension as he continued to balloon his advantage and by the time he arrived at the head-waters of Inanda Dam he had a 14-minute lead over Khwela.
‘I was tired, but I wasn’t stressed because I know that if you stress then you have the chance to make mistakes.
‘Two years ago I made a big mistake at Thombi and Hippo (Rapids), purely because I was stressing about being caught instead of concentrating on my own race,’ he said.
Making up the five minutes between himself and Sbonelo Khwela meant that Euro Steel/Kayak Centre’s Hank McGregor had to knuckle down to the paddling and limit the damage on the Nqumeni portage. However, the plan didn’t quite come together.
‘It was always going to be a massive ask for me to try and catch two phenomenal athletes and I tried not to get too excited at the start and pace myself.
‘I then tried to push my pace and made the biggest mistake possible. I took completely the wrong path going down Nqumeni and ended up bundu bashing and when I got back to the water I was spent emotionally and physically,’ McGregor admitted.
McGregor’s efforts over the 10km stretch on the dam was a testament to his attitude as he hunted down Khwela ahead of him and negated any advantage that Euro Steel/Red Bull’s Khwela had.
The 46km stretch from Dusi Bridge to Inanda Dam was not without its drama for Khwela (above), who came unstuck while on the treacherous Nqumeni portage.
‘I was running over Nqumeni and my seconds gave me a fresh water bottle, but when I got to the put-in at the bottom I didn’t have any juice.
‘I started to panic a little and knew the distance I had to go until I got a refill. Luckily I was helped out with a bit of water and then some cold drink that got me through to the dam.
‘When I got on the dam I had to put in as much power as possible, but when I looked back I saw Hank. Eventually Hank caught me and we stayed together all the way to the finish and I was happy that I stayed with him right to the finish,’ Khwela said.
After the second stage it is fair to say that Euro Steel’s Solms (above) has cast an eye over the Inanda Dam wall to Blue Lagoon and a maiden FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon title.
‘It’s comforting to know that I have such a substantial lead and tomorrow I am not under too much pressure,’ Solms said. ‘Tomorrow is a big day with Burma Road and it is going to be hot, so racing is going to be hard.’
Solms’ charge to the finish on Friday was fairly flawless, despite a hiccup at one of the Big Three rapids. However, she went through the day focusing on picking off the men’s competition around her.
‘I started in and among the men, so I kept telling myself that I wanted to catch a certain guy by a specific point and stay ahead of the guys behind me.
‘In my head I knew that I wanted to get to the dam with a group, so I planned my race and used the guys as markers,’ she explained.
In pursuit of her first FNB Dusi podium in only her second attempt, Euro Steel’s Bridgitte Hartley made up the ground that she might have lost after a disastrous first stage on Thursday.
‘I would have to say my two days were chalk and cheese.’ a visibly exhausted Hartley said. ‘I definitely had a much better day today. I tried to keep calm in the beginning and get through the few obstacles along the way. When I knew I was through the obstacles, I knew that I could power away.’
Tracking down young Christie Mackenzie was the first take on Hartley’s to-do list on Friday, but it was job done quite early on the second stage.
‘It was a little bit unexpected that I would catch Christie as early as I did and I thought that if I could catch her before five kilometres I could put some time into her and not have to worry about looking over my shoulder,’ Hartley added.
With the central theme of race twists running through day two, the junior race saw its own twist with Stewart Little taking the lead in the junior race category from Mvelo Ngidi, while Mackenzie consolidated her substantial lead in the junior girls age group.
In the Under-16 age category, David Evans was in sublime form, finishing as the second junior boat over the line while Caitlin Mackenzie was the strongest U-16 girl on the day and maintains her overall Under 16 lead.
Pictures courtesy of Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media
Day three results (46km between Dusi Bridge and Msinsi Resort) and overall time
1 Andy Birkett 3hr 05min 17sec – 05:46.00
2 Hank McGregor 03:14.58 06:06.07
3 Sbonelo Khwela 03:20.16 06:06.08
4 Jakub Adam (CZE) 03:18.00 06:11.27
5 Thulani Mbanjwa 03:17.54 06:11.29
6 Banetse Nkhoesa 03:20.38 06:16.39
7 Simon van Gysen 03:21.26 06:16.40
8 Zonela Nzuza 03:25.24 06:18.53
9 Siseko Ntondini 03:21.02 06:19.59
10 Mthobisi Cele (U23) 03:23.57 06:20.00
11 Loveday Zondi 03:24.10 06:24.26
12 Mpilo Zondi (U23) 03:20.28 06:24.28
13 Murray Starr (U23) 03:25.46 06:26:32
14 Khubulani Nzimande (U23) 03:25.49 06:26.32
15 Richard Cele 03:31.27 06:31.45
16 Adrian Boros (HUN) 03:27.05 06:31.48
17 Carl Folscher 03:27.06 06:31.48
18 Nqobile Makhanya (U23) 03:26.13
19 Lucas Mthalane 03:50.58 06:34.34
20 Nhlanhla Cele 03:30.37 06:35.20
1 Abby Solms 03:35.10 06:54.57
2 Bridgitte Hartley 03:43.11 07:14.55
3 Christie Mackenzie (U18) 03:59.23 07:28.34
4 Alex Adie 04:04.03 07:57.31
5 Kerry Segal (U23) 04:07.08 08:04.16
6 Caitlin Mackenzie (U16) 04:29.12 08:33.43
7 Debra Lewis 04:32.04 08:43.17
8 Cara Waud (U16) 04:34.20 08:43.54
9 Kate Swarbreck 04:55.15 08:54.56
10 Ronel Stevens 04:53.37 09:03.53
1 Mthobisi Cele 03:23.57 06:20.00
2 Mpilo Zondi 03:20.28 06:24.28
3 Murray Starr 03:25.46 06:26:32
4 Khubulani Nzimande 03:25.49 06:26.32
5 Nqobile Makhanya 03:26.13
1 Kerry Segal 04:07.08 08:04.16
1 Stewart Little 03:29.29 06:38.55
2 Mvelo Ngidi 03:46.39 06:53.22
3 Minenhle Mbhele 03:58.56 07:26.12
4 Sam Speed 03:58.45 07:28.33
5 Daniel Dillon 03:59.22 07:29.12
1 Christie Mackenzie 03:59.23 07:28.34
1 David Evans 03:34.28 06:48.33
2 Hamish Mackenzie 03:41.20 07:06.01
3 Sandile Mtolo 04:08.54 07:31.04
1 Caitlin Mackenzie 04:29.12 08:33.43
2 Cara Waud 04:34.20 08:43.54