Leaders widen gap

2014-02-15 00:00

ORDER was maintained on day two of the Dusi Canoe Marathon with the same pairings on the podium in the men’s and women’s race as had been after the first day. Only this time, though, Andy Birkett/Sbonelo Zondi and Robyn Kime/Abbey Ulansky had extended their lead after a tough day of paddling, the paddlers visibly tired after their efforts.

Starting from Dusi Bridge with an overnight lead of 5:27, Birkett and Zondi wanted to make full use of their advantage and this they did, finishing at Inanda Dam nearly nine minutes ahead of Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocke in a display of power paddling at the front of the field.

“Even with the water release we had, the river was low and the key for us was to find our rhythm and speed from the start,” said Birkett. “Day two is always a long day, just short of three hours of paddling and portaging and we managed to get a nice tempo going.

“Just before the dam I was pretty tired but I kept my focus for the long flatwater paddle to the finish. Algae on the dam slowed us a little, but to have increased our lead going into the final day … I’ll take it.”

McGregor and Mocke knew they had all the work to do and they started the day strongly, cutting the gap to just over five minutes at Pumphouse Weir. “Obviously, we tried hard to catch up and make use of our strong paddling skills and we put in a strong effort,” he said. “We gave it everything, including running the whole way over Ngomeni, but we had a scare between Gum Tree and Tombi Rapids when our rudder bent and I could not steer.

“I just saw rocks in front of us and thought our race was over. Somehow we made it through and then our pump jammed, which also ate into our time as we couldn’t get water out the boat. We were second best, despite leaving it all on the river.”

Third across the line were Cam Schoeman and Jakub Adam after another day where Adam showed his great flatwater ability and incredible stamina. “I started the day badly, driving horribly,” said Schoeman. “After Confluence we paddled well and Jakub’s power and how he pushed it on the dam was incredible. He loves hard work.”

Despite their healthy advantage, Birkett and Zondi know the race is not yet won. “I know all about the decisions that need to be made on the final day and I am still trying to convince Andy to run over Burma Road,” said Zondi.

Birkett though, knows that correct lines and pushing hard to widen the gap is key to reaching Durban’s Blue Lagoon ahead of the chasing pack. “This is river racing and it can go wrong in an instant. We will have to make wise decisions today and I am keen to shoot all the rapids, although that still needs to be discussed.”

Charging through the field and recording the second fastest time on the day were Lance Kime and Thulani Mbanjwa.

Starting the day 17th, they powered through to fifth overall, less than a minute behind fourth-placed Kwanda Mhlophe and Zonele Nzuza. Forget their ambitions of a top 10 finish — a podium finish seems more of a certainty.

“After our first-day mishap, our heads were not quite in the race, but sometimes a mishap makes you push harder as you have nothing to lose. We never expected to make up so many positions and when we were sixth at Ngomeni, we made our goal to try finish fourth,” said Kime. “We came close and are pushing hard for a top-three spot.

“Thulani and I have traditionally had strong third days and with his running strength at Burma Road, we could make up lost ground.”

As for the women, it’s now a two-horse race between Robyn Kime/Abbey Ulansky and Abbey Adie/Anna Adamova. Kime and Ulansky held on to their slender 29-second advantage after day one, increasing it slightly after the two boats had paddled side by side earlier in the day.

“A lead of nearly two minutes is nothing and the race is still on. Decisions today will take up time and we need to be sure of our gameplan as we head to Durban,” said Kime.

“Abby and Anna caught us at the first saddle take-out and we opened a gap at Ngomeni. The dam was tough and I was tired. It was a hard day’s work,” said Ulansky.

Adamova’s knee, which she split on day one, required stitches yesterday, but the pair are still hopeful.

“Portages were hard and we fell back. It’s tough trying to catch up and that’s when mistakes happen. We made some errors after Hippo Rapid and fell out after Big Bend but we are hanging on.”

Adamova, with her injured knee, is hoping to spend as much time as possible on the water today, saying “There is only one portage today, then we can rely on our paddling strength.”

Bianca and Tamika Haw are way back in third, still smiling, still having fun, but now having to hold off a determined bunch of chasers keen to secure that final podium spot.

Today, the elite paddlers leave Inanda Dam at 10.45 am and the winners are expected in Durban shortly after 1 pm.

Men’s standings:

1. Andy Birkett/Sbonelo Zondi 5:30.23

2. Hank McGregor/Jasper Mocke 5:39.29

3. Cam Schoeman/Adam Jakub 5:50.30

4. Kwanda Mhlophe/Zonele Nzuza 5:58.32

5. Lance Kime/Thulani Mbanjwa 5:59.15

6. Jacques Theron/Shaun Griffin 6:00.23

7. Siseko Ntondini/Piers Cruickshanks 6:00.24

8. Loveday Zondi/Thando Ngamalana 6:00.25

9. Craig Turton/Simon van Gysen 6:00.26

10. Damon Stamp/Mthobisi Cele 6:03.23

Women’s standings:

1. Robyn Kime/Abbey Ulansky 6:19:57

2. Abbey Adie/Anna Adamova 6:22:00

3. Tamica/Bianca Haw 6:55:08.

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