Youngsters will dominate

2014-10-18 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG — The hype ahead of the 2015 Dusi Canoe Marathon shifts into top gear tomorrow with the Umpetha Challenge that serves as the first prime Dusi seeding race.

The 16 kilometre race covers the first section of the iconic Dusi route, but unusually ends with a two kilometre portage up to the finish at the Bishopstowe Farmers Hall.

With the ongoing support of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation, the race — entirely run by the NCC Development Team — boasts a huge prize pool of R36 000, of which R6 000 is ring-fenced for the winning K1 paddler in both the men’s and women’s races. This is sure to attract most of the elite Dusi paddlers and will serve as the season’s first glimpse of form and intention in the build-up to the Dusi in mid-February.

2014 Dusi K2 champion Sbonelo Khwela, who won last year’s race with Andy Birkett, will be on the start line and a hot favourite to claim first prize. However, he is wary about making bold long-term Dusi predications, particularly as strength on the final portage will determine the top of the leader board.

“Getting back into portaging this early is a good thing, because it reminds you of what Dusi is all about and how tough it is to run with the boat,” he said.

Khwela will line up alongside another Dusi icon, Thulani Mbanjwa, whose recent return to form was highlighted by his best ever return from the two-day Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon last weekend.

The race will almost certainly be dominated by eager youngsters from the Computershare Change A Life Academy and the Lembethe Canoe Club who unashamedly target the Dusi-style races. Many of them factor in a lot of running into their training regime, which is sure to be evident on the run up the hills of Campbell’s Farm at the end of the race.

Four-time Dusi winner Birkett won’t be defending the Umpetha Challenge title he won last year as he is taking a well-deserved break after the World Marathon Championships and Fish River Canoe Marathon with his girlfriend, Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley, as the couple holiday in the Eastern Cape.

The women’s race will feature several classy elite racers fresh from their exploits at the World Marathon Championships in Oklahoma City, in Abby Adie and Laura O’Donaghue.

Adie has been almost unstoppable this season and has won a string of top-end events, including the Sella Descent in Spain (with O’Donaghue), N3TC Drak Challenge (2014 SA K1 Champs), Non Stop Dusi, Umkomaas River Canoe Marathon, Berg River Canoe Marathon and the Fish marathon.

As the season’s first Dusi race, the Umpetha is sure to attract a large field eager to take advantage of the water release from Henley Dam that will mirror water conditions for the Dusi Canoe Marathon, particularly with solid rainfall expected at the end of the week.

For many novices aiming to complete their first Dusi Canoe Marathon, the race is a must-do event that offers a chance to tackle iconic obstacles, such as the Ernie Pearce Weir, Commercial Road Weir, Musson’s Weir and Taxi Rapid, before testing their legs against the tough hills at Campbell’s Farm.

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