A British thriller – challenging races on the way to Gold
Maddening winds, currents, seaweed – the historic city of Portsmouth in Great Britain presented the 112 male and female riders from 28 nations with many challenges on their way to the European Championships. The focus was not only on the winners of the competition, but above all on the national ticket for the 2024 Olympic Games, which was up for grabs at the European Championships. The favourites in the women’s competition were mainly Spain, Poland and Austria. In the men’s competition, it was ultimately to be fought out between Great Britain, Germany and Poland.
The start of the competition was a bit bumpy at first. Due to a big storm depression, which was used for the Megaloop Challenge a few hundred kilometres away in the Netherlands, the first two days of competition had to be cancelled. Wind gusts of up to 51 knots made safe racing impossible, so that the already great pressure on the riders was increased once again. Instead of three qualifying days, only one day with a total of five races was used to divide into Gold and Silver fleets. It was already clear that it would be a close battle, with just a four-point difference between the three leading racers in the fleet.
In the so-called finals series, in which the riders are split between Gold and Silver, the priority was to cope with the increasingly difficult conditions. The weather behind the storm not only led to many wind shifts on the course, but also increasing sea grass and strongly varying wind strengths made it difficult to choose the right equipment.
“It’s difficult to decide to get rid of the sea grass by jumping and thus lose valuable metres, or just accept it and go a bit slower,” said 2021 World Champion Theo de Ramecourt.
The two Italians Riccardo Pianosi and Lorenzo Boschetti seemed to find the best middle ground – ranking first and second at the end of the day. Especially Poema Newland (FRA) and Ellie Aldridge (GBR) showed a strong performance in the women’s race.
The weather forecast for the last race day before the medal races indicated a sunny and steadily windy day, so that all riders wanted to give their best once again. The start was made by the men’s gold fleet in still very light, shifty winds. Here it was Jannis Maus (GER) and Riccardo Pianosi (ITA) who raced head-to-head, far away from the rest of the fleet.
“Even though it was the first race of the day, this race flipped a switch in my head. I saw that I can win races and I drew an incredible amount of confidence and motivation from the race,” said Maus (GER).
With a Did Not Compete by Connor Bainbridge (GBR) and an eighth place by Martin Dolenc (CRO) it was now a close box again among the top 5 men. In the women’s race, especially Newland (FRA) and Aldridge (GBR) delivered gripping races in the leading battle. The Brit also managed a feat in the fourth race of the day. After a botched kite change, she crossed the start line just 50 seconds after everyone else and managed to fight her way to third place by the finish line. An extraordinary performance that shows how comfortable Ellie feels on her home waters.
On Super Sunday, the riders woke up to challenging conditions once again. A strong onshore wind combined with unfavourable tide times meant high, short waves and again a lot of sea grass for the best European kite racers. The semi-finals of the medal races were to decide who would be allowed to enter the final on the one hand, and who would secure the nation place on the other. In the women’s competition, Gisela Pulido Borrell (ESP) already decided the battle in her favour in the semi-final, without making it into the final. Meanwhile, the men made it even more exciting. With pole positions in the semi-finals, it was Bainbridge (GBR) and Maus (GER) who fought for a place in the final and especially for the Olympic ticket. Both failed to win the first race, so a second semi-final round would decide who would go to the final and which country would go to the Olympics. Bainbridge (GBR) also missed his second chance, so Maxime Nocher (FRA) entered the final. On the other side, Maus (GER) showed nerves of steel, chose his 15 VMG shortly before the start and was able to outrun all the other semi-finalists on their 11s thanks to this decision. In the final it was Riccardo Pianosi (ITA) and Ellie Aldridge (GBR) who brought their skills to the stage and won the European Championship.
Both Gisella Pulido (ESP) and Jannis Maus (GER) were more than happy after the races: “Even though I missed the podium by a blink of an eye, I think the Nations place was by far the more important and difficult part!”, said Maus (GER).
Part of the fleet is taking a short break after a long and intense period of competition. For the rest, it continues next week at the World Series on Lake Traunsee.
All photos by: © IKA Media, Mark Lloyd
Congratulations to all athletes. Keep up the good work!