Reigning world champion Maxime Nocher opened his account with a bullet after a tricky day of light, shifty breezes at the KiteFoil GoldCup that tested riders’ skill and patience.
But the Monegasque Formula Kite title holder was pushed all the way in the day’s only race by his biggest rival, France’s Axel Mazella, and snatched the win by barely 20m after two laps of the track’s near glassy waters.
Race organisers were able to squeeze in just one race ahead of the early sunset in the Arabian Gulf after the light airs of recent days prevailed on day one of the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) GoldCup final in Qatar.
The first effort to get the closing round of the “open” kitefoil world championship underway in breezes of 6kts faltered as many riders struggled to clear a wind shadow off The Pearl-Qatar island’s Qanat Quartier precinct beach.
For those who made it to the windward-leeward course the 6kts to 7kts breeze, flat waters and 18m and 19m foil kites were more than sufficient to achieve scorching speeds heralded by wind screaming in riders’ lines as they hit more than 25kts.
A second attempt towards the end of the afternoon proved more successful as what little breeze there was swung off-shore, the smooth waters ensuring the margins between competitors remained extremely tight on the two laps of the track.
The 37 riders — including six women — will race in one fleet over the forthcoming three days as the race committee decided it would afford the greatest opportunity to run the most races, faced with short days and forecast settled conditions.
Yet for Slovenia’s Toni Vodisek, at 16 one of the fleet’s youngest riders, the light airs were right in his wheel-house and he picked up a strong fifth place, an ideal start as he bested many older and more experienced racers.
Despite his youth, Vodisek knows the waters and is returning two years after competing in the course-board Asian Continental Championships, which were also hosted by the Qatar Sailing & Marine-Sports Federation.
“This place is like my home spot, so it suits me,” he said. “I like it a lot. I was here a couple of years ago. I’m one of the youngest, but it’s always been like that. At first it was a bit strange, but it doesn’t bother me now.”
Another veteran of the Doha track who put in a blistering opening performance was Russia’s Elena Kalinina, 18. The KiteFoil GoldCup women’s tour leader, who romped home in twelfth spot, leaving many ordinarily faster men in her wake.
Even after the first attempt aborted because of the fickle breeze, the light-wind diva was chomping at the bit and eager to race as she had been in her element blasting around the track framed by the Doha’s burgeoning skyscrapers and cranes.
“It was good,” she said. “The wind was good for racing. I want to go. These are exactly the kind of conditions I like.”
She found no arguments from Nocher who revels in flat waters and lighter airs that have invariably carried him to three successive Formula Kite world titles and earned him the 2015 IKA KiteFoil GoldCup crown.
“It was perfect,” he said, winding his lines as he came ashore. “It was a little bit light, but OK. I was just ahead of Axel [Mazella] at the start line and I maintained the lead all the way round the course. I’m in poll position, so it’s a great start.”
But Mazella, 18, knows there is a long way to go, especially if the breeze picks up in the coming days. The GoldCup series’ leader, courtesy of his overall first round victory in Italy, realises that on his Banga foil and F-one Diablo2 kites that are identical to Nocher’s, he has to pace to win.
“I started just behind Maxime Nocher, and he was just ahead of me on the upwind and downwind legs,” said Mazella. “At the finish he was only 20m ahead of me. I’ve got the speed. I just need to make a slightly better start.
Overall standings after one race.
1 Maxime Nocher (MON, Banga/F-one) 1pt
2 Axel Mazella (FRA, Banga/F-one) 2pts
3 Maks Zakowski (POL, Moses/Ozone) 3pts
4 Blazej Ozog (POL, Moses/Flysurfer) 4pts
5 Toni Vodisek (SLO, Levitaz/Ozone) 5pts
1 Elena Kalinina (RUS, Banga/Elf) 12pts
2 Gina Hewson (AUS, Levitaz/Ozone) 38pts
2 Ariane Imbert (FRA) 38pts
2 Jade O’Connor (IRL, Banga/Elf) 38pts