Competition at the Formula Kite World Championships in Oman saw the stakes raised as the leading racers battled to secure a top 10 spot and the chance to go for glory in the Medal Series on the final day on Friday.
The duels on the water off Muscat’s Al Mouj beach in the top fleet, with riders battling for position, were intense, with the slightest mistake proving costly in what is undoubtedly the strongest kitefoil racing line-up of the year.
France’s Nico Parlier barely put a foot wrong on the penultimate day of the five-day regatta on the Gulf of Oman’s flat waters, in a shifty 10 to 11 knot breeze, extending his lead and giving himself a healthy advantage.
It didn’t all go his way, however, Britain’s Olly Bridge managed to get the better of the Frenchman in one race, notching up his first win and taking second place on the leaderboard. This victory came right after he had failed to complete the previous race and had to be rescued after breaking two lines and seeing his kite tumble into the water.
France’s Axel Mazella secured third place on the leaderboard after a day of neck-and-neck competition with rivals Parlier and Bridge that saw ultra-fast (just over) seven-minute laps of the course.
Despite intense competition from a classy field – with 10 of the 18-strong gold fleet riders aged under 21 – the leading trio were in a class of their own. The chasing pack, however, was almost as quick, with most finishing just seconds after the leaders.
The biggest winner on day four of the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) Formula Kite World Championships, hosted by Oman Sail with associate sponsor Al Mouj Muscat, was Riley Gibbs, from the USA, who put in a stellar performance and notched up a clutch of high-placed finishes.
He was awarded a scoring redress for the five races he was forced to miss on Wednesday after a collision in a port-starboard incident with the reigning Formula Kite World Champion, Maxime Nocher, from Monaco. The award propelled him to fourth on the leaderboard and secured his place in the Medal Series.
Slovenian Toni Vodisek, 17, put his best foot forward on day four, enjoying his finest day on the water so far with a brace of second and third place finishes in the top fleet’s six races, putting him seventh overall.
Russian Denis Taradin had a slightly more chequered outing, but his strong finishes in the opening clashes of the two-day Finals Series were enough to put him in ninth place overall going into the final day.
“Behind the leading three guys there is a battle for every single place,” said Taradin. “It’s definitely the toughest fleet I’ve ever sailed in. The whole line-up is packed. I love every single moment of it. I try not to care too much about the result, enjoy myself and not make too much trouble in my mind.”
Frenchman Théo de Ramecourt, tenth overall, was also revelling in the intensity of the competition that he believed ultimately could only be good for his future performance.
“The level here is just insane,” said de Ramecourt. “One race you can be number four, then number 14. You just can’t make any mistakes. It’s really hard, but it’s so interesting. We now have a new vision of what racing is. I’m so happy with my speed and performance.”
In the women’s fleet, another battle has been unfolding out on the water between France’s Alexia Fancelli and Russia’s Elena Kalinina, with both trailing in the wake of the reigning Formula Kite World Champion, Daniela Moroz, from the USA, who posted six wins out of six today.
Fancelli was pleased to have bagged a second and a trio of third place finishes that gave her the edge and put her in second place on the leaderboard over former Formula Kite World Champion, Kalinina. The pair, are just one point apart going into the final day.
“I’m so pleased that I’m in the game with Elena Kalinina for a second-place finish,” said Fancelli. “We’ve had a long day, but I’m absolutely going faster. So now it’s about tactics and reading the wind shifts on the course to earn the best advantage.”
Full results and minute-by-minute race reporting can be found at:www.formulakite.com/results
Top five men after 12 finals series races (two discards)
1 Nico Parlier (FRA) 14pts
2 Olly Bridge (GBR) 27pts
3 Axel Mazella (FRA) 31pts
4 Riley Gibbs (USA) 56pts
5 Titouan Galea (FRA) 92pts
Top three women after 23 races (four discards)
1 Daniela Moroz (USA) 19pts
2 Alexia Fancelli (FRA) 43pts
3 Elena Kalinina (RUS) 44pts