A clutch of new young stars, most of them kiteboard racing novices, were crowned at the finale of the first TwinTip: Racing Europeans in southern Italy after almost a week of high-intensity action in the new discipline.
But the competition that was marked by thrilling drama in near-perfect conditions ended with a whimper when the clockwork-like wind went missing on the final fifth day of the 2017 International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) TT:R European Championship.
Until the last minute race officials tried to squeeze in a few more heats, but the little breeze that came remained stubbornly unstable and largely below the 10kts judged necessary for fair and exciting competition in the downwind slalom format that will be used in the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Argentina next year.
Still, the riders who had topped the standings at the end of day four were delighted with the outcome and believed they had done more than enough to earn their crowns over the remarkable 175 short-sharp races that were run in the Open, Boys and Girls divisions.
Croatia’s Martin Dolenc, 17, took the Open title with unmatched pace and precision that left his veteran racing rivals awed and even himself a little surprised. The teenager dominated the Open class, sitting top of the leaderboard right from the opening exchanges.
“I’m so, so happy,” said Dolenc. “This is my first European senior title, so it’s really great to get it. To be honest I’m really surprised. I just didn’t expect to be this fast. I wasn’t really training for this before coming here, just a couple of sessions.”
Yet in the Boys and Girls under-19 divisions made up of those who will be eligible for the YOG in Buenos Aires it was a very different story with the lead changing hands as the young riders who had little experience of TwinTip racing got to grips with the format.
France’s Victor Bachichet, 17, grew faster and more consistent as he gained in experience and took the Boys’ title with a sparkling photo-finish win in his final elimination round on the competition’s penultimate day.
In the process he just squeezed out the US’s Cameron Maramenides, 15, who took the second podium spot. The Frenchman praised his younger rival as a model of pacy consistency who had pushed him all the way.
“I’m really super-happy to win this first event,” said Bachichet. “It was so cool. We’ve had good boys, good girls, and good pizza. Before I came I didn’t expect to win. I hoped to be in the top ten, but not first. It’s great experience to come here and test your level. Now I’ll definitely train for the YOG qualifiers.”
The Girls’ under-19 European crown went to Spain’s Nina Font Castells, 15, who claimed the top spot on the leaderboard on day four after the US’s Daniela Moroz, the Formula Kite Foil world champion, had several poor races that put her down the order.
Moroz, 16, had dominated the first three days of the Girls’ competition and looked odds on to take the title even after the introduction of jumping obstacles on the course that caused her to have to rethink her game.
Castells, by contrast, is a freestyler with little race experience, so at least the jumps were not an alien concept. As she waded ashore on Gizzeria’s Hang Loose Beach after an abortive attempt to get some Girls’ racing away on the final day, the teenager was still having difficulty processing her victory.
“It feels good,” she said. “But I need to relax and take it all in. I’m so stoked, but it’ll take time for me to really realise what has happened. It would be wonderful to go the Olympics and represent my country. But I’m not going to think about that. I’ll just keep doing my ‘job” and take it one step at a time.”
The prospect of a place at the YOG had prompted 68 boys and 28 girls—out of a total of 112 riders from 21 nations—to make the journey to Italy to practice new TwinTip racing format ahead of upcoming continental Olympic qualifiers.
The races of downwind slalom courses of five legs, with jumps depending on the conditions, were designed to make it as accessible as possible to young kiters. The eight-person heats last about three minutes and start relentlessly like clockwork every five minutes.
But the concept of refereeing infringements—rather than the more traditional system of post-race protests adjudicated by a jury—caused some controversy as the inexperienced racers believed they should have recourse to appeal decisions.
IKA race officials recognised that it had taken riders time to get used to the unfamiliar system and accepted that there are some areas that could be improved, particular that penalties should better fit the infringements.
“Looking back over the whole week, where we ended up, it was really good,” said Markus Schwendtner, IKA technical director. “In the beginning it was difficult - the refereeing concept is a total game changer in sailing terms, so it was a very steep learning curve for everybody. Refereeing is a bit of revolution, but it’s the only way to deal with the large number of continuous races (175) in which the referees made more than 300 calls.”
Girls’ (U19) IKA Europeans top five after 5 elimination rounds (1 discard)
1 Nina Font Castells (ESP) - 10pts
2 Daniela Moroz (USA) - 15pts
3 Alina Kornelli (GER) - 15pts
4 Isotta di Domenico (ITA) - 18pts
5 Jingle Chen (CHN) - 25pts
Boys’ (U19) IKA Europeans top five after 5 elimination rounds (1 discard)
1 Victor Bachichet (FRA) - 13pts
2 Cameron Maramenides (USA) - 15pts
3 Toni Vodisek (SLO) - 16pts
4 Anthony Picard (FRA) - 18pts
5 Benoit Gomez (FRA) - 21pts
Open IKA Europeans top five after 10 elimination rounds (2 discards)
1 Martin Dolenc (CRO) - 13pts
2 Olly Bridge (GBR) - 19pts
3 Florian Gruber (GER) - 27pts
4 Axel Mazella (FRA) - 37pts
5Theo de Ramecourt (FRA) - 37pts