Khwela and Nkhoesa run to Umpetha victory and fire early Dusi warning shot

2015-11-10 06:00
 Photo: supplied Sbonelo Khwela and Banetsi Nkhoesa negotiate Taxi Rapid on route to winning the Umpetha Challenge.

Photo: supplied Sbonelo Khwela and Banetsi Nkhoesa negotiate Taxi Rapid on route to winning the Umpetha Challenge.

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DUSI champion Sbonelo Khwela and his Shongweni protégée Banetsi Nkhoesa ran to victory in the lucrative Umpetha Challenge canoe race on Sunday and in the process laid down an ominous marker at the start of the FNB Dusi season.
The Team Euro Steel/Red Bull duo backed their running ability on the tough final 2,5 kilometre climb from the uMsundusi River to Bishopstowe Hall to prevail in their three boat tussle with former Dusi champs Andy Birkett and Jason Graham and the new crew of Len Jenkins and Siseko Ntondini.
The three boats were locked together during the flatwater lap across Camps Drift and down the Ernie Pearce and Commercial Road weirs, where the three boats shot the narrow fish chute side by side, resulting in Jenkins and Ntondini getting stuck in the reeds on the right, allowing the other two contenders to get away.
By the time they started the long portage up Campbell's Farm that ends the race, Jenkins and Ntondini had rejoined the front group after a gusty fight back, and tried to make an early break on the tough uphill portage.
It proved to be foolish in the hot conditions, with the temperatures on course reaching 41 degrees, and they blew spectacularly, allowing the measured Khwela and Nkhoesa to ease into the lead and canter home to a convincing win, with Birkett and Graham a distant second.
"Everything went 100% according to plan," said Khwela. "We wanted to stay with the other guys on the water and then make a gap on the uphill part of the portage, which is what happened."
The win was a significant one for Nkhoesa, who was cherry-picked by Khwela for the FNB Dusi 2016 campaign.
"It's the hardest thing you can do, to try to run behind Sbonelo Khwela!" said Nkhoesa.
“I have always wanted to race at the highest level, and I knew that running behind Sbonelo I was going to die today, but it was worth it."
The women's race fell predictably to the crew of Jenna Ward and Abby Solms, a combination cobbled together to assist both women who won't be able to paddle with their Dusi partners until the new year.
The pair had to ensure they didn't get caught up in any of frantic racing typical of in the seeded A batch, and wisely settled into their rhythm just behind the bulk of the first batch paddlers.
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