Thulani Mbanjwa, one of the Dusi Canoe Marathon pre-favourites, admits that a fast start will be crucial come Thursday as he gears up alongside Sbonelo Khwela for the 2020 edition of the grueling race.

The pair have teamed up for the first time in eight years to try and become the first all-black pair to claim the title of the three-day event that runs from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

The excitement in KwaZulu-Natal is currently bubbling as one of the biggest days on the canoeing calendar looms. Mbanjwa says he and partner Khwela are in the perfect place for the race.

Mbanjwa and Khwela are two of the best black paddlers in the country. Both are also former winners of the race – the former winning alongside race legend Martin Dreyer back in 2008, and the latter racing to victory in the same boat as another star Andy Birkett in 2014.

Birkett is bidding for a seventh straight title alongside Khumbulani Nzimande in 2020, with the pair the biggest threat to Khwela and Mbanjwa, who will be driving the boat this time. He says he is ready for the challenge of sitting at the front.

Conditions for the 69th edition of the world-famous race are expected to be the best in a decade, with recent heavy rains allowing for the uMsunduzi River and uMngeni River to flow smoothly.

With more rain forecast for the three stages, paddlers can look forward to excellent water levers.

This will also make things easier on the final day, where one of the major changes have been implemented with the abolishment of the Burma Road portage due to security fears.

Audio: Mbanjwa outlined how he and Khwela have been preparing for the change.

Meanwhile, Khwela says they have also placed a lot of emphasis on paddling for the 2020 race.

This is due to the high levels of water that had been expected, with some of the teams set to face tough decisions over whether to paddle or portage in several areas along the route.

Khwela believes they have prepared well this time. – Report by Thahir Asmal