VALLEY OF A THOUSAND HILLS, KwaZulu-Natal - Day Two of the Dusi River Canoe Marathon started serenely and peacefully at Dusi Bridge, but it did not take long for the drama to start unfolding.
After all the chopping and changing of the lead through day two, the race came to an end in an incredible four-boat end sprint. Hank McGregor and Andy Birkett suffered a bent rudder, and yet, still managed to claw back for the stage victory, followed closely by Carl Folscher and Adrian Boros, then Ant Stott and Banetsi Nkoesa, with fourth going to Sbonelo Khwela and Siseko Ntondini
Even before the day began, a call made late last night saw the Houston brothers, who were occupying fourth after day one, pull out of the race with the younger, Alan, coming down with a bout of Dusi guts.
This is the second K2 race where the brothers have been struck by illness as Alan was waylaid in 2016 too, seeing them lose a strong position they had worked for through the first two days.
Stott and Nkoesa moved up to fourth as a result and made the most of their opportunity.
McGregor and Birkett set off first with their elapsed time lead sitting at a shade under two minutes, but they were soon in trouble as they approached Gauging weir.
Just above the Slide Rapid, McGregor and Birkett were closely tailed by Khwela and Ntondini, just eight seconds back. Then, a further six seconds back, Folscher and Adrian Boros were keeping in touch as Stott and Nkoesa followed close by.
McGregor was heard conversing about a potentially broken rudder which seemed to explain the loss of time.
Indeed, it was confirmed when, just above Marion Foley, the Day One leaders had to get out to change their rudder, relinquishing the lead at the same time.
At Ngumeni portage, it was the strong running pair of Khwela and Ntondini leading with Stott and Nkoesa now in second, only 32 seconds back. McGregor and Birkett were now in fourth almost two minutes back.
At Mafula Store, Stott and Nkoesa had grabbed the lead just ahead of Khwela and Ntondini, and those two boats had pulled almost two minutes ahead of the chasing third and fourth boats, McGregor and Birkett, and Folcher and Boros, who were side by side heading towards Inanda Dam.
At the headwaters of the dam, with 12km of flat water ahead of them, the top four had banded into two groups. At the front of the pack, the boat of Stott and Nkoesa were leading by half a length from Kwela and Ntondini.
Then, making some ground, McGregor and Birkett were 1:40 back, still alongside Folscher and Boros with it all to play for towards the Day Two finish.
However, the flatwater did play its part as the top two marathon paddlers in the world managed to pull off a great come back, setting up the final day for an exciting finish.
In the women’s race, it was a far more straightforward affair as Jordan and Cana Peek managed to ride their five minute lead all the way to the Inanda Dam finish. Bridgette Hartley and Christie McKenzie followed in second, making up a minute over Day One’s split, but seeing as the split went as high as eight minutes through the race, it was an effort that left them in with a shout.