- 06 May 2009 | Windsurfing
There were no signs of nerves from slalom’s newest addition to the World Tour, as the opening day of competition in Austria delivered sun and wind in equal measure to start proceedings in style.
After a morning spent registering just shy of 400 sails and 200 boards, the 66-man slalom fleet took to the water to mark the official start of competition on Lake Neusiedl.
Powered by the prevailing NW wind, the racers had to negotiate a 4-buoy slalom course, starting and finishing on port tack. Opening proceedings, all eyes turned to race one.
Despite a new location, new regulations and many riders using new gear for the first time in competition, there was little upset in the opening rounds. Both Antoine Albeau (JP / NeilPryde) and Bjorn Dunkerbeck (Starboard / Severne) appeared immune to the pressure of windsurfing’s media scrutinizing their every move, as they seamlessly extended their respective runs of form from 2008, to reserve places in the eliminations final eight.
Similarly, the UK’s Ross Williams (Tabou / Gaastra) looked rock solid as he picked his path through rounds one, two and three with a comprehensive display exhibiting both depth and savvy, to reward him with his place in the final eight.
Continuing a seemingly relentless run of exceptional consistency, Peter Volwater’s (F2 / MauiSails) ability to deliver no-frills, reliable-sailing whilst under pressure made sure his name also featured in the race one final.
Padding out the final 8 were: Jimmy Diaz (Starboard / North Sails), who worked the gusting wind well to secure two seconds and a third place en route to the final, Julien Quentel (RRD / NeilPryde), who on current form would be a solid bet to secure a podium finish in the event’s overall standings, and Steve Allen, whose dependable, heat winning consistency was once again very much on the money.
Going head to head, it was business as usual for Albeau, who never looked back after taking the lead on the first reach. A predictably slick execution of the following four gybes saw the Frenchman deservedly claimed race one. Second place went to a defiant Williams, who looked destined to take third until he pulled off a major coup, overtaking Quentel in a seemingly un-winnable drag race to the finish line.
Finian Maynard (RRD / NeilPryde) and Kevin Pritchard (Starboard / Gaastra / Dakine) may be slightly frustrated with their absence from the final. Maynard stumbled in round two after missing out on a top four qualification spot, and Pritchard lost his grip in round three, having to make do with 12th in the elimination (after coming 4th in the losers final).
Advancing onto race two in the evening light, there was a sense of disbelief when Albeau was seen languishing at the back of the pack in his round one heat.
The uncharacteristic blunder left the World Champion with the almost impossible task of closing a reach-long gap to secure his place in the next round. Almost defying the odds, he mounted a remarkable comeback only to be denied fourth place by local sailor Chris Pressler (Starboard / Severne / Dakine).
As the race progressed, Maynard proved his shaky start was only a brief episode. Two precision first place finishes in rounds one and two helped him secure his place in the race final. Pritchard also made sure he made amends for his no-show in the final of race one, by tapping into his wealth of racing experience to settle down into the final eight.
Credit must also be given to the sailing of Gonzalo Costa Hoevel (Exocet / MauiSails), who looked dangerous throughout the opening rounds of race two to cement his name in the race final.
Unfortunately, dying light and increasingly fickle wind forced competition to be placed on hold until day two before the final two heats could be sailed.