Sbahle Mhlophe and Sbonelo Eric Zondi. DUSI 2010

Pietermarizburg – Unfancied Sbonelo Zondi sprung a surprise on the opening day of the Dusi canoe marathon, edging ahead of pre-race favourite Andy Birkett to win the first stage outside Pietermaritzburg on Thursday.

The 24-year-old claimed victory between Camps Drift and Dusi Bridge in a record time of two hours, 43 minutes, 17 seconds (2:43:17), 39 seconds faster than the previous best and 20 seconds ahead of Birkett, the three-time reigning champion.

The pair were among a dozen paddlers who made an early break, before they flew even further ahead in a four-man breakaway alongside Lance Kime and Thulani Mbanjwa near Campbells Farm Portage.

Zondi then hit the front at Guinea Fowl Takeout and never looked back in the 42 kilometre opening stage.

Kime, considered one of the dark horses for the 62nd edition of the world’s largest and most famous race of its kind, crossed the line third in 2:45:26.

Mbanjwa, Zondi’s more heralded K2 partner and one of the pre-race favourites, was fourth in 2:50:52, ahead of 2005 champion and another fancied paddler, Hank McGregor (2:51:03).

In the women’s race, Robyn Kime, who like Birkett is bidding for a fourth successive crown, eased to victory in a record time of 3:11:21.

Her first stage performance was almost 15 minutes quicker than Abby Adie, who was second in 3:25.15, while Bianca Haw took third place in 3:26.45. – Sapa