Stage set for a full and feisty 50 Miler

2012-12-01 00:00

WITH heavy clouds and rain over KZN, the mood ahead of this weekend’s 50 Miler Canoe Marathon the biggest precursor to the Dusi Marathon — is tense and equally stormy.

The big field for this Best 4 Healthcare-sponsored event has been guaranteed full rivers for the two-day race on the Msunduzi and uMngeni Rivers thanks to the ongoing rainfall in the region and good water releases from Henley and Inanda Dams.

The race has attracted every serious contender for the Dusi title in February, all eager to take full advantage of racing on full rivers, a luxury they are normally deprived of in the months leading up to the Dusi.

When the seeded A batch jostles through Mission rapid shortly after the start this morning, paddling fans will see the class of triple 50 Miler champ Ant Stott, triple Dusi champ Andy Birkett, former Dusi winners Thulani Mbanjwa and Len Jenkins and double world champ Hank McGregor all vying for early control of this lucrative race.

Jenkins won Ozzie Gladwin in imperious style a few weeks ago, after having gone toe-to-toe with Birkett and Mbanjwa over 25 km of tactical racing.

“It is becoming harder to ignore a race like the 50 Miler,” said Birkett.

“The prize money is very good and it is now so far removed from the Dusi since it moved to February that it can be seen in its own right.”

Stott, who has won eight 50 Milers, and the last three K1 titles, is downplaying his chances, having had a high pressure year with his new business that has eaten into his training time.

McGregor, however, may well be the man to beat. With the race shying away from portages, in stark contrast to the Dusi, and with full rivers assured, the hefty Durbanite will be a major factor in the race.

There is also the class of Sbonelo Zondi, Loveday Zondi, junior Don Wewege, Brandon van der Walt, Mmeli Cele, Lance Kime, Cam Schoeman and the talented Kwanda Mhlope, and the race for top 10 places can be expected to be ferocious.

With equal prize money for the winning man and woman, the race has attracted the cream of the female river racers as well.

Abby Adie is in top form after her fifth back-to-back win in the Ozzie Gladwin, where she showed a clean pair of paddle blades to Olympic medallist Bridgitte Hartley. Adie won the race last year with her twin sister Alex.

She will square up to the defending K1 champ, Dusi pacesetter and team-mate Robyn Kime, who has been absent from the local racing scene while she concentrates on her studies in Stellenbosch.

Kime was runner-up in the recent Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon, 10 days after she sensationally won the U23 silver medal at the World Marathon Championships in Rome.

Hilary Pitchford will revel in the big water conditions, but the three will be pressured by the band of juniors, including Bianca Haw, Brittany Petersen and youngster Jordan Peek.

More information and entry forms can be found at www.50miler.co.za.

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