Dusi champs prepare to battle

2015-01-08 00:00

LAST year’s Dusi K2 winners Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Khwela have ramped up their training as they prepare to face each other in the 2015 spectacle that gets underway next month.

Having won the race together last year, the pair will go head-to-head while contending with a number of other strong suitors in the K1 category.

Before they take to the Dusi river, both paddlers have a number of upcoming races to continue preparations ahead of the country’s most anticipated canoe marathon.

Speaking to The Witness yesterday, Khwela was upbeat having finished in second place at the Fast Drak on December 30.

“It was a really good result for my first time racing in the Fast Drak. Considering I went up against Lance Kime, the defending champion, I gained some valuable experience,” Khwela said.

Renowned for his blistering portage speed, Khwela enjoyed the race even though it only featured two short portages. His podium finish also showed that he has been hard at work on his paddling.

“After last year, I have improved my paddling to get more speed on the water,” he said.

Khwela lamented the fact that he picked up a minor knee injury and will do no running for the next week in order to recover. Some would think it is a blessing in disguise for the powerful runner, as he could use the time to continue improving his paddling speed. “It is actually as the Dusi requires a combination of paddling and running, so I am hoping for a quick recovery” he said.

Ever upbeat, Khwela is still looking forward to taking on his first ever Drak Challenge at the end of January. Going into the race slightly green, the 26-year-old is not overly focused on winning.

“To me, it’s more about putting more miles on the body, it’s more like training — I want to go there and get some more experience.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming Dusi, Khwela is anticipating the race to be the most closely contested in recent years.

“This will be the toughest Dusi, all the guys are incredibly strong all round. Lance Kime (defending K1 champion) will be tough, as will Andy and Thulani Mbanjwa. I am hoping for an epic four boat battle.”

Meanwhile, Birkett did not compete in the Fast Drak, opting to train while on holiday with his family in the Transkei.

“I trained quite hard there and got some good mileage on the body, but it was mainly a nice little getaway,” Birkett told The Witness.

Coupled with a training camp in Plettenberg Bay directly after the 50 Miler at the beginning of December, Birkett seemed upbeat ahead of the upcoming races this month.

“We went to Plett with a lot of youngsters from the Natal Canoe Club. We did a lot of paddling, probably about 30 kilometres a day, which was a lot more than I usually do so I think my paddling is up to scratch,” he said.

Along with Khwela, Birkett will take on the Eurosteel Rumble on the Jukskei river in Johannesburg on January 18 to 19.

“Apparently it is an awesome river and it’s the closest race to the Dusi in terms of portages. There is some hectic running, some of the stretches are four kilometres, which is really long,” Birkett said.

Birkett plans to use the Rumble and the Drak Challenge as his final preparations before the Dusi.

However, he believes the Campbells to Dusi Bridge early next month race is the real form guide ahead of the Dusi. “It’s the last three quarters of the actual Dusi race, so it gives you an idea of where you are in terms of fitness,” he said.

The 2015 Dusi Canoe Marathon gets underway on Thursday, February 19 to Saturday, February 21.

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