The wind played cat and mouse, but in the end there was just enough breeze and daylight to squeeze in one race on the penultimate day of competition at the finals of the “open” kitefoil world championship series.
But in the hard-fought race with the desert sun sinking fast, the fickle, shifty airs were ideal for Monaco’s Maxime Nocher to eke out another bullet that puts him one step closer to retaining his International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) KiteFoil GoldCup title.
His win over training partner Axel Mazella (FRA) by just one second at the line pushed him up to second place in the standings after a forgettable day two of the competition marked by misfortunes and mistakes that cast him down the order.
Yet courtesy of a third place finish Britain’s Olly Bridge holds his spot as overall leader going into the final day’s racing. With good wind finally forecast and just four points separating the top three riders, the high-octane action will undoubtedly furnish a fitting climax to the four-day championship played out on flat waters off The Pearl-Qatar island’s Qanat Quartier precinct.
Slovenia’s Toni Vodisek, just 16, is still very much in the hunt after blazing a trail with four bullets from day two’s six races, but his fifth place in the day’s only race caused him to slip to third overall.
Even Mazella, current KiteFoil GoldCup series’ leader after his victory in the opening round in Gizzeria, Italy, in July, is just a few points adrift in the competition hosted by the Qatar Sailing & Marine-Sports Federation.
The 31 men and six women, from 18 countries, have been racing as one fleet in an attempt to run as many races as possible in the short days and the light breezes that have only permitted eight races.
Day three came perilously close to proving a complete bust. An adequate 6kts to 7kts finally emerged in mid-afternoon. But while many of the lighter riders easily made it to the track from the beach and were comfortably riding in the 5kts to 7kts breezes, others were stuck in the wind shadow on the beach.
For more than an hour race organisers waited and helped riders to get on to the course. But with the starting sequence eventually underway, the wind dropped to less than 6kts and the race had to be postponed just 10 seconds before the off.
When the yellow class flag finally dropped to signal the start Nocher, on his Banga foil and F-One Diablo2 kite, rarely looked back and led all the way. But he was aware that Bridge, on his Levitaz Bionic foil and Ozone R1V2 kite customised with a Union Jack flag, was hard on his heels.
As the pair match raced, covering one another’s tacks and gybes, they took the left side of the track on the second upwind leg of the two-lap race that unfolded in barely 13 nail-biting minutes.
Their duel left the door open for Mazella, who opted for the right side of the course where the wind was marginally stronger and steadier. It was a move that cost Bridge a place and almost allowed Mazella to overhaul Nocher.
“I’m so happy,” said a clearly relieved Nocher. “It’s a big fight with Olly Bridge and Axel Mazella for the world title, so every race you push hard and try to win. Every race is so important, partly because we will have only two discards. Yesterday, I made so many mistakes and broke my foil. But today I was clear and fast, and I’m pleased.”
For Russia’s Elena Kalinina, the path to the women’s crown seems assured. The 18-year-old has been racing fast and cleanly, putting her on a par with many of the men.
Overall standings after 8 races (1 discard).
1 Olly Bridge (GBR, Ozone/Levitaz) 17pts
2 Maxime Nocher (MON, F-One/Banga) 19pts
3 Toni Vodisek (SLO, Ozone/Levitaz) 21pts
4 Axel Mazella (FRA, F-One/Banga) 24pts
5 Florian Trittel (ESP, Ozone/KFA) 31pts
1 Elena Kalinina (RUS, Elf/Banga) 103pts
2 Gina Hewson (AUS, Ozone/Levitaz) 159pts
3 Jade O’Connor (IRL, Elf/Banga) 160pts
4 Ariane Imbert (FRA, Ozone/Banga) 192pts
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