Pietermaritzburg – Pre-race favourites Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Zondi claimed a runaway victory on the opening day of the Dusi canoe race in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday.

The pair crossed the line first at Dusi Bridge in a time of two hours, 33 minutes and 30 seconds (2:33:30) after taking the lead at Pine Needle Portage and never looking back.

Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocke, also among the contenders for the 63rd edition of the world famous race, were second in 2:39.03

Ä just under six minutes behind Ä after setting the pace at the start.

However, it was a horrible opening day for Lance Kime, the winner of last year's K1 classification, and his partner Thulani Mbanjwa after they took a fall at the Commercial Road Weir where they buckled their boat.

They eventually recovered to come in 17th, in 2:59.14, but it placed them close to half-an-hour behind the lead pair after the first of three stages, which began at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg.

In third place was Cam Schoeman and Czech rowing star Adam Jakub in 2:47.07, with Kwanda Mhlophe and Zonele Nzuza (2:48.20) fourth followed by Craig Turton and Simon van Gysen (2:49.55) fifth.

The women's race was a much tighter affair with overwhelming favourites and two-time defending champions Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky coming in 29 seconds ahead of Ana Adamova and Abby Adie (3:02.30) with a time of 3:02.01.

Haw sisters Tamika and Bianca came third in 3:16.16.

The second stage of the 119.62 kilometres race, which is a K2 or doubles classification in 2014, between Dusi Bridge and Inanda Dam takes place on Friday, with the rowers expected at Blue Lagoon on Saturday– Sapa