Pietermaritzburg - The thrilling N3TC Drak Challenge over
the weekend served to give an important perspective on the mental and
physical preparation of the contenders for the 2020 Dusi Canoe Marathon from February 27-29, despite the fact that it is a K1 race on a different river.
Defending Dusi champion Andy Birkett rewrote the Drak history books after he
won his seventh consecutive Drak Challenge title and has now
bumped himself further up to the tier of river legends in South Africa.
Not only does Birkett do it with a humble smile, he does it effortlessly
and that is what his two day paddle down the Mzimkhulu River looked like as he
coasted to a lopsided seven minute victory over long-time rival and friend Hank
Significantly for Birkett however, was the performance of his Dusi partner on
the second day of the Drak Challenge.
Khumbulani Nzimande produced a monumental effort to rise three places from
eighth overnight to fifth overall by posting the second fastest time on the
final stage, helping him to his best result at the Drak Challenge.
One of the year’s most consistent paddlers has been Stew Little and despite him
finishing in fourth this year at the Drak Challenge there is no doubt that the
Dusi is the main goal for the Underberg local.
His Dusi partner Jacques Theron finished inside the top ten which underscores
that they are in good shape with four weeks until the Dusi kicks off at Camps
Another K2 crew that showed they are hitting their straps at the right time are
the Houston brothers, Alan and Andrew.
They finished fourth and fifth respectively at the Drak Challenge and they will
be a threat at the Dusi this year and could well push for a podium should they
stay fit throughout the race.
From a women’s perspective despite Jenna Ward’s dominance of the two days,
there was one performance that stood out and might sound a few alarm bells for
the leading Dusi combinations.
Sprint queen Bridgitte Hartley put in a ferocious display on day two where she
blitzed her way up the field to finish in third place overall after a
disappointing open day on Saturday left her a distant sixth. She produced the
fastest time by a woman by five minutes on Sunday’s second stage.
In addition to getting her onto the podium for the fourth time in successive
years, Dusi pundits are ramping up talk of her combination with Tracey
The Drak also gave us another glimpse into the form of Dusi K1 champion
Christie Mackenzie. Mackenzie had to fight off a resurgent Hartley but managed
to seal second spot behind Ward which again shows that she is in fine form.
The concern for Mackenzie is that her partner Cana Peek hasn’t been in racing
mode as of yet. However with a 2018 winner’s medal Peek understands what it
takes to win the Dusi.
Also putting their hands up this past weekend were Tamika and Bianca Haw.
Both are renowned for their running ability but they showed that they can mix
it up with the paddlers as Tamika finished fourth and Bianca sixth.
This result will give them confidence that they can compete with the best women
paddlers but they are also strong runners which might give them a slight edge.
The 2020 Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from February 27-29, 2020.
details and more information can be found at www.dusi.co.za