Czech paddlers lead the #GKCM

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This second day of the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon delivered the anticipated action – and more. Flowing rapids and the spectacular Neus Gorge were highlights for the paddlers.

The stage began with an elapsed start where the first 20 boats were set off one after each other in the order and with the time gap in which they finished Day One. This gave the first three teams only a one-minute, 20-second lead over Thulani Mbanjwa and Sbonelo Zondi. These two run faster than the rest and were able to make up two-minutes on the rest over the 1,500metre portage, which came up 14-kilometres into the stage. The front kayaks had one goal in mind: to pull away from Mbanjwa and Zondi from the gun.

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The Czech Republic pair of Michael Odvarko and Kamil Mruzek made it to the portage take-out first, leading the fast-paced run down the dirt road. Graeme Solomon with Ivan Kruger and Stuart Maclaren with Tom Schilperoort chased hard, getting to the put-in with the Czechs. Within a kilometre the Czechs were sitting 40 seconds off the front two. And then…

“Ivan says to me, ‘We’ve got a problem here’. Our boat was filling up with water so we pulled to the side to empty it,” explains Solomon, who began the stage as race leader. Whether it was one of the many sharp rocks or the infamous ‘dry weir’ that slashed the side of their kayak, they made it through the next 12 to 14 kilometres by emptying it regularly. They didn’t have anything with them to repair the hole.

“Just before Neus weir there was nowhere for us to get out. We didn’t make it across in time. So, we sank,” he laughs. They later got duct tape to cover the holes and made it through to the finish in 7th place, 22-minutes down. This takes them out of the running for a podium finish – and the generous prize money.

With the weirs, two portages and technical passage through the Neus Gorge, Maclaren and Schilperoort found it difficult to get into a comfortable rhythm. “Today was hard; almost like a time trial. But the tailwind was fantastic,” says Schilperoort. Although they were with the Czechs going into Neus Gorge, the foreign paddlers pulled away at the biggest of the rapids. “We had a tricky exit and they just pulled away,” he says.

Their boat is holding up better than most because they got out to carry their boat down the ‘dry weir’ before the long portage. “Our boat is old and not as strong so I took very conservative lines. We lost time getting out but made it to the finish with our boat intact. The others all shot the weir,” Schilperoort says.

It was a good day out for Mbanjwa and Zondi and they’re up into third overall. “Lots of excitement today with long flats and tricky sections. Tomorrow we just stay with the guys and get to the finish,” says Zondi.

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Swedish paddlers Emil Torstensson and Rasmus Jaruta are flat-water, long-distance specialists. This is their first-ever river race, their first time paddling a kayak using pedals and a rudder to steer and their first time negotiating rapids. “It’s really fun in the rapids,” says Torstensson. They had solid lines to make it safely through the many sharp turns and technical sections in Neus Gorge.

Going into the third and final day, Odvarko and Mruzek lead Schilperoort and Maclaren by only 50-seconds. They’ve got a six-minute cushion on Mbanjwa and Zondi. The stage begins with a mass start from Die Mas, in Kakamas, and covers 24 kilometres to finish at Khamkirri, Augrabies.

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