All is running to plan

2014-02-14 00:00

ACCORDING to the formbook, all is running to plan after day one of the 2014 edition of the Dusi Canoe Marathon. Then again, there are still two tough days to go and nature, mixed with the elements, can intervene and ruin the most precise plans and preparation.

Men’s favourites Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Zondi hit the front at Campbell’s portage and never looked back … well, when they did, they didn’t see anyone near them and they surged ahead to carve a five-minute and 27-second lead over second-placed Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocke.

To onlookers, it was clear the Birkett/Zondi pairing meant business. They were slick, poetic at times and smooth in all they did. “We opened a gap at Campbell’s and were controlled going over Guinea Fowl,” said Birkett. “We never knew how far ahead we were but we wanted to open up a gap so as to hurt the other boats. At Finger Neck I was taking strain but we had quite a gap by then and we were sticking to our race plan.”

At Cabbage Tree portage, the pair hit the gas, going hard and pulling comfortably ahead.

“This was a great first day for us and all went to plan. Taking the lead was the motivation we needed to go hard and having been in front after day one before, I know there are still two days to go where anything can happen,” said Zondi.

McGregor was chirpy, happy with his day on the water. “Andy and Sbonelo have quite a big lead and we have plenty of work to do. I have faith in our paddling ability and day two will be big for us,” he said. “There is flatwater and hyacinth to contend with and I am confident we will make up time on the current lead.”

Third home was Cam Schoeman and Czech Republic partner Jakub Adam, the latter becoming the first foreign paddler to secure a podium finish after the first day. “I feel way out of my league with these paddlers,” said Schoeman. “We kept it consistent and worked hard. Jakub pushed me all the way and was amazing.”

Adam admitted the hills were tough, but the pair was strong on the downhill. “It’s a surprise to be third and the heat got to me from Guinea Fowl. I spent two weeks on a training camp in the mountains back home and that’s prepared me well.”

Such is the nature of paddling, the fancied Lance Kime/Thulani Mbanjwa duo had their hopes of contending for race honours dashed early when a boat in front of them went sideways at Commercial Weir, its rudder cutting into their boat. They lost 30 minutes repairing the damage and fell back to 30th. However, they have fought back into the top 20 but know their chances have gone, the best they can hope for being a top 10 finish.

The women’s race sees a mere 29 seconds between Robyn Kime/Abbey Ulansky and Abbey Adie/Anna Adamova after changing positions throughout the day. Adamova slipped and cut her knee but “felt nothing because this is a race and I had to push on.”

Kime knows the race is far from done. “We would have liked a bigger lead and will have to push hard to stay ahead.”

Ulansky said she was surprised by Adie and Adamova’s portages, where they came on strongly. “Day two is long and testing and we want to finish ahead and in one piece,” she said. Third were the Haw sisters, Bianca and Tamika, who were “just happy to be where we are and hope to maintain that position”.

With water levels lower than usual, it was a technical, tough paddling day. Bearing this in mind, it gives an indication of Birkett and Zondi’s class that they finished less than a minute behind the K2 day one race record set by Martin Dreyer and Mbanjwa in 2008.

Men’s Top Three (Day One)

Andy Birkett/Sbonelo Zondi 2:33:30

Hank McGregor/Jasper Mocke 2:39:03

Cam Schoeman/Jakub Adam 2:47:07

Women’s Top Three (Day One)

Robyn Kime/Abbey Ulansky 3:02:01

Abbey Adie/Anna Adamova 3:02:30

Tamika/Bianca Haw 3:16:16.

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