Top contenders keep cards close to their chest


Words: Kyle Gilham | Photo: Anthony Grote

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Mmeli Cele’s recent good run of form continued on Sunday when he partnered Valley of a Thousand Hills paddling icon Thulani Mbanjwa to victory in the CMH Inanda Dam to Durban race – the final qualifying and seeding race of the widely anticipated 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon – and ,in the process, became 2014 KZN K2 river marathon champions.

Top contenders keep cards close to their chest

While the pair raced to victory, a game of cat and mouse unfolded behind them as many of the top Dusi contenders opted to take advantage of the opportunity to get one last look at Dusi’s stage three route under race conditions, while at the same time avoiding giving away any hint of their true form.

Dusi title hopefuls Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Zondi (both EuroSteel) abandoned the race at Pumphouse Rapid while fellow trophy contender Hank McGregor (Kayak Centre/Team Jeep) tackled the race in his K1, leaving Cele (Computershare Change a Life Academy) and Mbanjwa (Build it) to saunter home to claim a comfortable victory over Cam Schoeman and Czech star Jakub Adam.

“Lance (Kime) is down in Stellenbosch sorting out some things with his studies and Mmeli’s Dusi partner, Lucas (Mthalane), was unavailable to paddle on Sunday so Mmeli and I decided to jump into the boat together and have a bit of a last paddle before Dusi,” explained Mbanjwa.

Deciding whether to run the notoriously steep and energy sapping Burma Road portage or to paddle the technical, testing and potentially boat-breaking stretch of river midway through the final stage of the Dusi is an annual choice all top contenders are faced with. Recently, most have however opted for the land-based option.

With McGregor and Mocké having made no secret of the fact that – provided there is a decent water level come the final day’s action – they will paddle, the curiosity around which tactics will dominate this year have been sparked once more and have heightened the importance of proper preparation by those looking to run the taxing portage.

“Even though Mmeli and I didn’t push as hard as we can up Burma, it was a good opportunity to run the portage and see how the body is feeling just before Dusi,” said Mbanjwa.

“Provided Lance and I don’t have any major problems before then during Dusi, I’m sure we will run Burma,” he confirmed.

For Cele, the win came as his second of the KZN season after he and Mthalane were victorious at the hot and dry Hi-Q Challenge at Albert Falls Dam a few weeks ago and will further strengthen his mentor ‘Dusi Duke’ Martin Dreyer’s argument that he and Mthalane could well challenge for a top five position at this year’s Dusi.

The women’s race was another mixed bag as, like Cele and Mbanjwa, Hilary Pitchford (Race Food/Pepto Pro Sport) and ‘Dusi Queen’ Abbey Ulansky (Best 4 Healthcare/Kayak Centre) came together to claim victory after being left stranded by their 2014 Dusi partners.

Pitchford will pair up with Cape Town based Alex Adie for this year’s Dusi while Ulansky will reignite her partnership with Robyn Kime (Best 4 Healthcare/Kayak Centre) as they go in search of Dusi K2 win number three.

The Dusi Canoe Marathon 2014 starts in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday 13 February and ends in Durban on Saturday 15 February 2014. More information can be found at


1.Thulani Mbajwa/Mmeli Cele 2:15.10
2.Cam Schoeman/Jakub Adam 2:20.43
3.Hank McGregor 2:22.39
4.Don Wewege/Kevin Musgrave 2:22.40
5.Adam Nisbet/Len Jenkins 2:22.46

1.Hilary Pitchford/Abbey Ulansky 2:34.02
2.Abby Adie/Anna Adamová 2:41.48
3.Debbie Germiquet/Carmen Donald 2:43.32