Pietermaritzburg - As the countdown to the 2018 Dusi Canoe Marathon in earnest, the women's K2 title hopefuls will be sizing up the December period as a vital cog in their preparation as they build up to the three day event from February 15-17.
After having a first hit-out at the recent Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon, presented by Parklane Super Spar, it gave a few of the elite women a chance to see how they shaped up in race conditions.
The race wasn't a fair reflection as to who could be the K2 to beat with many make-shift combinations taking part, but as the combinations begin to take shape the ladies title race is going to be as tightly contested as ever.
2016 K2 champions Abby Solms and Anna Kožíšková will not be on the start line together due to the former's pregnancy, however Kožíšková could be back for another shot at the title. The Czech Republic star teamed up with Jenna Ward and won the Fish River Canoe Marathon so there is a chance that combination could reappear at Dusi.
Ward's name will surface as a potential first-time winner of the Dusi in 2018 and whether she teams up with Kožíšková or with her 2016 partner and Hungarian ace Vanda Kiszli, Ward's chances are seen as strong.
A name that burst onto the scene in 2017 was that of the young Christie Mackenzie. The Euro Steel youngster ran her way into second place at this year's K1 edition of the race and will be teaming up with Bridgitte Hartley in 2018.
Hartley was in second place in the K1 showdown in February but scorching final day heat and a run, that will be forever etched in the minds of all who took part, spelt the end of her challenge as she bravely fought to the finish to take third.
This pair of Mackenzie and Hartley should prove to be the biggest threat for Ward and her international partner.
Another duo that will be fighting hard for a spot on the podium is the duo of Kyeta Purchase and Kerry Segal. The pair joined forces for the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in August and will join up once again for the iconic journey from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
Segal showed her Dusi skills and determination to finish fifth at this year’s event. Purchase is a former Under 18 champion at the event so they will provide a substantial threat to the other hopefuls.
Having raced to second at the recent Ozzie Gladwin behind the make-shift pair of Christie Mackenzie and Kerry Segal, the Under 18 pair of Amy Peckett and Caitlin Mackenzie could prove to be a surprise package at next year's Dusi.
The juniors, who are only in their first year of Under 18 in 2018, are both schooled at Epworth and will have plenty of training time together to go with their partnership at the 2017 Canoe Marathon World Championships.
Caitlin Mackenzie was highly impressive at the K1 Dusi showdown this year when she ended sixth and second junior in the ladies race.
A crew that will sneak under the radar in the build-up but could ruffle a few feathers, is the Peek sister crew of Jordan and Cana.
The younger sister Cana is an age group champion and has proved that she has the ability and Jordan is also a strong all-round athlete. The pair finished third at the Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon and could be a dark horse in the exciting ladies podium pursuit.
The 2018 Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from February 15-17 from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon in Durban. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za