Dusi assumptions challenged

2013-02-06 00:00

THE final seeding race for The Unlimited Dusi Canoe Marathon, the weekend’s Inanda Dam to Durban race, has thrown the elite paddlers into disarray.

Less than two weeks before the Dusi classic, the CMH Eric’s Canoe Shoppe Inanda Dam to Durban race exploded the myth that the Burma Road portage was a prerequisite for success, while title contender Len Jenkins’ had his confidence dented after destroying his canoe in the race.

Traditional logic has ruled that at average water levels, the notoriously tough Burma Road will make up as much as two minutes for a well-conditioned elite paddler. However, with the uMngeni running at a moderate 25 cumecs, that theory was consigned to the scrapheap as Grant van der Walt blitzed the paddle around Burma Road to win the race.

Despite not even being on the Dusi entry list, U23 world marathon champion Van der Walt won ahead of team-mate and training partner Hank McGregor — who will be looking to add to his solitary K1 Dusi win, which he claimed back in 2005 — with valley hero Thulani Mbanjwa third.

The outcome has set the cat among the pigeons, particularly after word was leaked to the paddling fraternity that the final stage of the race will be staged on a 35 cumecs water release. This will clearly favour the paddlers going around Burma Road and work against the stronger runners, like Mbanjwa, who have dominated the taxing portage.

“It was interesting to see guys looking to paddle around Burma. If we get the water some guys are talking about, then I definitely think it will change things quite a bit from what everyone has been used to,” said Mbanjwa.

“The race [on Sunday] was good. I think a lot of the guys were using it as a tripping opportunity more than actually going for the win because we don’t often get to paddle the Dusi day-three stretch, but it was still a good day for most of the guys,” he added.

A welcome rule change by the organisers on Sunday allowed for the elite stars of the field to choose — as they will have to do on the third and final day of this year’s Dusi — whether to run over or paddle around the infamous Burma Road.

Interestingly, having been strongly-placed in third approaching the Burma Road take out, triple defending champion Andy Birkett withdrew from the race once he reached the river banks, leaving his competitors guessing what he will do on the big race day.

Jenkins, like van der Walt, opted to explore the tricky waters around Burma Road, but suffered a worrying mishap that saw him wrap his boat, and that would have dented his confidence ahead of the main spectacle next week.

The U23 category once again showed its depth and ability, something many are expecting to be evident in this year’s Dusi. Together with Van der Walt’s victory, places four, five, six, seven and nine all belonged to U23 paddlers Gavin Shuter, Ben Biggs, Donavan Wewege, Mhlonishwa Hlongwane and Kwanda Mhlope respectively.

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