As if they knew about it, the weather gods delivered absolute perfection on the final day of the Formula Kite Mixed Relay Team Europeans, creating ideal conditions for breathtaking competition as Connor Bainbridge and Ellie Aldridge (GBR) secured gold.
The Brits won following a valiant effort from Florian Gruber and Leonie Meyer (GER) who took silver, with Guy Bridge and Katie Dabson (GBR) completing the podium in third.
The Medal Race 3.0 format once again delivered action-packed racing today, with race 1 for semi final fleet A getting off in stellar conditions with wind at 11-16 knots at 1215. Around the first mark was an all French trio, led by Theo de Ramecourt followed by Maxime Nocher and then Axel Mazella with Alejandro Climent Hernandez (ESP) in fourth. Coming around the bottom mark, Nocher tried to get inside and overtake de Ramecourt but was unable to complete the manoeuvre before the final gybe mark. Nocher tried again to get inside his compatriot and take the lead for the changeover when they both got hit by a gust and launched, with de Ramecourt recovering better to hold a lead toward the changeover line, where he had a big crash just as he crossed the line, almost as if the pressure from Nocher was so great that de Ramecourt’s legs gave out as soon as he crossed the line.
Their teammates kept the pressure on each other all the way up the beat, with Lauriane Nolot (FRA) folding under the pressure, crashing on the final tack at the top mark, letting Jessie Kampman extend a handy lead, and letting Gisela Pulido Borrell (ESP) through as well before getting back up to speed. The positions remained unchanged as they crossed the line with de Ramecourt/Kampman (FRA) taking first, Climent/Pulido (ESP) second and Nocher/Nolot (FRA) third. Taking in to account that Nocher/Nolot began the semi finals in first, they remained in the top spot after race 1, looking for one more good clean race to see them into the finals.
Race 1 of semi final fleet B was led by Guy Bridge, with Toni Vodisek (SLO) pushing hard right behind him, before also crashing hard at the changeover line, close enough to prompt a video review, as Vodisek body-dragged back to the beach to replace his mast and foil, as the mast foot had seemed to explode, leaving the foil dangling on by a few shards of carbon.
Meanwhile, his sister and teammate Marina Vodisek (SLO) was pushing hard to make the most of the advantage her brother had given her, but pressure was on from world #1 Julia Damasiewicz (POL). Damasiewicz rounded in third, hot on Marina’s heels, the pressure proving too great for Marina as she crashed in a gybe, the unforgiving short-course format putting her from second to sixth in a matter of seconds. Katie Dabson (GBR) soared across the finish line with a big lead, making it clear that the other teams would have a lot of work to do to stop her and Bridge from going through to the finals.
Race 2 for semi finals fleet A produced the most drama by far, with Borrell starting to leeward in the right-of-way position, Kampman moved her kite up to keep clear, but in the heat of the moment, the kite moved too high, too quickly, not giving adequate time for Nolot, who was to windward of Kampman, to react and move her kite out of the way. The resulting commotion saw kites in the water, with Nolot too far behind to have any hope of catching up, scoring a DNF as they headed straight to the jury to lodge a protest.
Meanwhile, Damasiewicz led around the top mark, followed by Borrell, giving Hernandez a good opportunity at the changeover, which he did not waste, overtaking the younger Polish sailor to power across the line in 1st, with Jakub Jurkowski (POL) finishing 2nd and Mazella in third.
Race 2 for semi finals B fleet was tight between Magda Woyciechowska (POL) and Dabson all the way around the first lap, with Woyciechowska only able to give 30 meters lead over Dabson at the changeover, a lead that proved too small for Michal Wojcieshowski (POL). He was unable to stop the charge from Bridge, who moved into the lead by the top mark and was unstoppable as he scored their second semi final win, which moved the British team of Bridge/Dabson through to the finals.
But ‘who would be joining them from fleet A?’ was the question on everybody’s lips, as all eyes were on the jury as they sorted through the facts of the commotion at the start of their second race. After a short while, the decision was made and the team of Ramecourt/Kampman (FRA) was disqualified, and no redress awarded to Nocher/Nolot, leaving Nolot visibly and understandably upset.
This meant that the Spanish team of Climent/Pulido would be going through to join Bridge/Dabson (GBR), Gruber/Meyer (GER) and Bainbridge/Aldridge (GBR) in the finals, and the teams started to gear up and head out.
With each team able to choose who would start, it was all four men on the line first, jostling for position in the 12-16 knot breeze, Bridge electing the pin end with Gruber starting at the boat. Bridge tacked first, but Gruber was furthest to the right with Bridge chasing Bainbridge hard. Four kites floated up and over, as if tied together, as all competitors tacked simultaneously to round the top mark, with Gruber leading ahead of Bainbridge, Bridge with Hernandez rounding in fourth.
Eager to give his teammate the best advantage possible, Gruber stretched to build as much of a lead as possible, eking out a 20 meter gap back to Bainbridge by the bottom mark, who in turn was feeling the pressure from GUY who made an impressive charge across to the final gybe mark.
It was edge-of-your-seat racing at its best, as all teams made a good changeover, except Dabson, who struggled a bit to get the timing and speed perfect.
Straight out of the blocks at full speed, Aldridge tacked early, managing to cross ahead of Meyer already. However Meyer did not give up and managed to gain back some ground and seemed to be in the lead when they tacked toward the top mark. However, as the whole beach watched, holding their collective breath, Meyer crashed at the last second, having undercut the layline by a mere meter.
Cheers, groans and awe-struck exclamations filled the air as Aldridge flew around the top mark, now with a clear lead, and sailed the remainder of the lap without incident to cross the line in first place, winning the overall event in style.
“It was really close on that upwind,” beamed Aldridge, “When you’re that close behind, the only thing you can do to try and overtake is split, so I thought it was worth the chance. Quite often when you come back on starboard at the top, it puts pressure on them to either tack inside or tack below, so I tacked on a really tight layline, so she had to tack below me. Then even if I over lay, I can get a better rounding than her, and thankfully the plan worked!”
Teammate Bainbridge was just as chuffed; “The wind came up today and Aldridge and I are much more confident on our 15m kite than we are on our bigger ones. It is actually really horrible watching your friend and teammate going around the race course, knowing how much hangs on it! But we only had one goal today and that was to keep it simple, and we managed to use our speed and we are very happy with the result!”
Despite the drama with his teammate, and missing out on the chance for the GOLD, Gruber was stoked to finish with silver, “Super happy with the podium finish; that was the goal. The last few years we always seemed to miss the podium in the final races of the team events but this time we managed to be solid on the podium, and if we train a bit more we can do even better!”
The level of competition was super high at this event and all teams had their fair share of ups and downs. It is clear that the fleet are taking big steps forwards with each event, which increases the excitement and anticipation for the next event!