The stage is set for the final act of the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) KiteFoil GoldCup in what will surely be a thrilling showdown on the Arabian Gulf’s flawless flat waters.
Leading contenders for the world championship crown in the “open” kitefoil class have been limbering up off The Pearl island’s Qanat Quartier, clocking blistering speeds in breezes of barely 5kts under cloudless skies.
The high-octane competition will feature 37 riders from 18 nations locked four days of tight, breathtakingly-quick action that kicks off tomorrow (Wed,16 Nov), framed by Doha’s towering and fast-evolving skyline.
France’s Axel Mazella has put himself in poll position for the title with a victory in the GoldCup’s opening round in Gizzeria, Italy, in July. That win established the 18-year-old as series’ leader after he stamped his authority in a range of testing conditions — from the lightest breezes to punchy winds accompanied by big swells.
But Mazella’s clear path to the crown is far from assured. The French teenager clinched victory in Italy by just one point, ahead of training parter, Monaco’s Maxime Nocher, who had reeled in Mazella, remorselessly chipping away at a commanding early lead.
Since that tense duel, Nocher turned the tables on his rival with a win at the IKA Formula Kite (foil) World Championships in China, his third successive title and the first of the foiling era. He is also reigning KiteFoil GoldCup champion.
Yet if there is one rider determined to upset any victory lap, it will be Olly Bridge. Also just 18, the rangy Briton has a devastating turn of speed and displays growing tactical awareness that secured the second podium spot in China, splitting his Gallic rivals.
All three contenders are strongest in light breezes, which could be important in the coming days as the promised uncharacteristically settled conditions mirror the zephyrs that have graced the track in the run-up to the GoldCup finale hosted by the Qatar Sailing & Marine Sports Federation.
Whoever takes the title, they will have the honour of receiving it from Khalifa al-Suwaidi, president of the federation, which hosted the course-board Asian Continental Championships in 2014. Two years on, four Qatari riders will be competing on the international foiling stage for the first time.
But aside from the top three ranked riders, they will find themselves up against a formidable array talent, including Spain’s Florian Trittel, former world champion Florian Gruber (GER), Bulgaria’s Alexander Bachev, and Theo Lhostis (FRA).
Among the women, former world champion Elena Kalinina (RUS), leading the KiteFoil GoldCup rankings, must be hot favourite to take the crown. She too has been out on her Banga foil and Elf Joker 18m kite scything effortlessly through the flat waters, a dramatic precursor of what is to come.