Picture: Shan Pillay

Johannesburg – With less than 48 hours to go until the start of the 2013 Dusi Canoe Marathon, top paddlers are tipping Shaun Rubenstein as the surprise package.

Rubenstein won the race convincingly as a junior and returned from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing to claim an unexpected third place in a K1 in 2009.

Now, married and settled in Cape Town, the Kayak Racing star had been concentrating his efforts on his mountain, surfski, and trail running as he prepares for the Cape Epic later on in the year.

“Watch out for Ruby, we all know he's a great paddler, but we were shocked to see him catch up and overtake all the top guys running up Guinea Fowl portage in one of the pre-Dusi races a couple of weeks ago,” said his friend and business partner Thulani Mbanjwa, himself tipped by many to battle it out for this year's title.

Mbanjwa's view was backed up by four-time Dusi winner Ant Stott.

“Ruby came third in 2009, coming off a sprint base and carrying an ankle injury,” Stott said.

“That says a lot... he has the heart of a lion.

“Shaun has done plenty of work on his legs on the bike and trail running recently, and he is definitely my prediction to come second behind Andy Birkett in this year's Dusi.”

Rubenstein's advantage is that he is under no pressure coming into this year's encounter – conditions under which he thrives and often performs at his best.

While many will have their eyes closely on Birkett, Mbanjwa, and Hank McGregor when the gun goes off on Thursday morning, the elite stars setting off in batch A will do themselves no harm by keeping a close eye on Rubenstein as well.

The Dusi starts on Thursday at Camps Drift and ends at Blue Lagoon in Durban on February 16. – Sapa