Gusty Mistral winds played to the strengths of French kitefoil racer Nico Parlier when he seized pole position on the leaderboard with a perfect three bullets that left rivals struggling to match his pace in the punchy conditions.
Overnight leader Axel Mazella (FRA) had already reconciled himself to the fact that the second day of competition at the Sardinia Kiteboard Grand Slam would be Parlier’s when he saw the forecast breezes.
Yet Mazella still gave Parlier a run for his money, harrying his countryman around the two-and-a-half laps of the windward-leeward course in offshore winds that quickly built to an average of 25kts, with gusts of more than 30kts under clear blue Mediterranean skies.
In the day’s third and final race, however, the wheels came off when he missed a gybe in the “survival” conditions on the second downwind leg, momentarily crashing his kite in the process, before recovering to finish sixth.
Britain’s Guy Bridge, 18, was just above Mazella at the time and had to carry on further to avoid the downed Frenchman and make his own gybe. It helped the Briton take fourth place, though in the end it was not enough for him to avoid slipping one place overall to fourth.
Monegasque Maxime Nocher, the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) Formula Kite World Champion and reigning KiteFoil GoldCup title holder, capitalised on the others’ slips to take a trio of solid third spots that left him just adrift of Mazella overall.
“I’m not training a lot in these conditions, but I’m quite happy about them,” said Nocher, making his comeback after a four month layoff used to launch his own business. “I managed to make some good races. The first two were OK, but the last one was was very windy and I crashed a couple of times.”
Indeed, the Mistral winds whipping the sand off Cagliari’s Poetto Beach mounted so quickly, gusting to 40kts on the course, they forced a suspension of racing over safety concerns. When it failed to moderate even in late afternoon, racing was called off for the day.
The five-day regatta on the historic Italian resort island will crown the IKA KiteFoil World Champion. But the competition is also the fourth and final stop of the “open” IKA KiteFoil GoldCup series, with Mazella in the box seat after victories at back-to-back regattas last month in Weifang and Pingtan, China.
In the women’s contest, French 16-year-old Anaïs Desjardins is looking to take the GoldCup title after winning at the first stop in Korea and taking a third podium place in Weifang. But she struggled in the tough conditions in Sardinia, failing to complete two races, leaving Britain’s Steph Bridge in control when she posted three mid-table finishes in the competitive mixed fleet.
Her middle son, Guy Bridge, on a Levitaz Bionic foil and 9m Flysurfer Sonic Race kite, was sanguine about dropping a place in the circumstances and believes the slightly lighter breezes expected for the closing days could work for him.
“It was a battle for survival out there,” he said, casting an eye over the blustery track. “I didn’t feel totally in control. The second race was really gusty and I crashed a bit. I felt better in the last race. I certainly dialled it back a bit and didn’t push too hard.”
Team-mate and former Formula Kite World Champion, Germany’s Florian Gruber, also riding Levitaz foil and 9m Flysurfer kite, felt comfortable in the conditions for the most part, though was slightly apprehensive about the potential for tangles at such high speeds on crowded startlines.
“The three races were fine,” said Gruber, lying ninth overall. “OK, on my 9m, the gusts were strong, but otherwise it was good out there. For the top riders these conditions are no problem. I was just a bit unlucky when my kite collapsed in a windshift in one race when I was running fifth, and it cost me quite a bit in the end. I just need a bit more luck.”
OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER 6 RACES (1 DISCARDS)
1. Nico Parlier (FRA) - 7 pts
2. Axel Mazella (FRA) - 12 pts
3. Maxime Nocher (MON) -14 pts
4. Guy Bridge (GBR) - 19 pts
5 .Theo de Ramecourt (FRA) - 22 pts
TOP RANKED WOMEN AFTER 6 RACES (1 DISCARDS)
1. Steph Bridge (GBR) - 109 pts
2. Anais Desjardins (FRA) - 147 pts
3. Sabrina Schlossnikel (GER) - 191 pts
Full results, LIVE video streaming and live results: www.kitefoilgoldcup.com