Durban - Overnight leader Sbonelo Zondi extended his advantage in the Dusi canoe marathon, but the bigger surprise came courtesy of a dramatic fall for defending champion Andy Birkett during the second stage at Hillcrest, outside Durban, on Friday.
Zondi, 24, crossed the line in an overall time of 5:43:42 after the 48km second leg from Dusi Bridge to Inanda Dam, edging out Lance Kime (5:44:50) after both capitalised on a difficult day for the holder.
Reigning champion Birkett, 20 seconds behind after the first day, took over the lead within 10 minutes of the start, before twice having rudder problems and then enduring a fall at Tombi Rapid, two thirds of the way into the stage.
He was overtaken a little earlier at Nqumeni Hill Portage by Zondi, with Kime moving into second shortly after they passed that point of the race.
By the end of the stage, Zondi was more than a minute clear.
“At Gauging Weir (13km into the stage) he (Birkett) was still building a gap, but then I saw him stop to fix his rudder,” Zondi said.
“After Nqumeni, I put the hammer down and didn’t look back till the finish.
“I am very happy about the way the first two days have gone. Tomorrow I will try my best to maintain the gap over Lance Kime.”
Hank McGregor, the 2005 champion, had quietly made his way up to third, in 5:46:55, after a storming second stage.
Birkett, bidding for a fourth consecutive title, was in fourth place in 5:49:19 and Thulani Mbanjwa (5:52:25) was lying fifth.
“I bent my rudder after taking a gamble early, and after repairing it I still wasn’t concerned because I knew I could make up the time," Birkett said.
“When I came out on the other side of Nqumeni I could see I was catching the leader very quickly. Maybe I was pushing a bit too hard which led to my fall.
“Five-and-a-half minutes is a big gap heading into tomorrow, but I’m not going to give up yet.”
The women’s race was even more dramatic as defending champion Robyn Kime recovered from crashing her boat deep into the stage at Hippo Rocks, extending her advantage to over 16 minutes by the end of the day.
The 22-year-old, bidding to win a fourth consecutive title, almost broke her boat in half, before it bent back into place, and battled a small leak to cross the line in an overall time of 6:30:19.
Abby Addie retained second place in 6:46:53, while Jen Theron moved from fifth to third in 7:00:18.
“There’s only one rock that sticks out there that is very difficult to hit, but I somehow did it,” said Robyn Kime.
“The corners of my boat were almost touching each other at that point, but I managed to bend it back in place.
“When I first saw the boat break in half, I thought that’s it, my race is gone."
She was not getting ahead of herself as she looked to complete her charge for victory.
“I’m glad to be in the lead, but I’m not going to be counting any chickens before they hatch.”
RESULTS AFTER THE SECOND STAGE
1. Sbonelo Zondi 5:43:32
2. Lance Kime 5:44:50
3. Hank McGregor 5:46:55
4. Andy Birkett 5:49:19
5. Thulani Mbanjwa 5:52:25
6. Ant Stott 6:00:26
7. Cam Schoeman 6:04:57
8. Jason Graham 6:04:59
9. Loveday Zondi 6:09:57
10. Zonele Nzuza 6:09:58
1. Robyn Kime 6:30:19
2. Abby Adie 6:46:53
3. Jen Theron 7:00:18
4. Hilary Pitchford 7:00:23
5. Bianca Haw 7:03:00