Only the finest margins separate the top of the order after scintillating racing, as the Formula Kite World Championships are about to hit the final series on the penultimate day of the regatta on the Gulf of Oristano on the Italian island of Sardinia.
The French duo of Axel Mazella and Théo de Ramecourt are equal on points at the head of the men’s standings after a day of awesomely-quick racing, in gusty and shifty side-shore breezes that reached 18kts. But occasional lulls down to 7kts were a source of drama at times for most of the athletes.
Behind the pair, only three points separate the seven racers lying in positions four to ten; such was the intensity of the battles all over the trapezoid track’s flat waters, just off Torregrande’s beach.
In the women’s competition, the difference between the leaders was almost as tight. But reigning Formula Kite World champion, US’s Daniela Moroz retained her slender lead despite uncharacteristically dropping a bullet.
On the fourth of the scheduled five-day regatta at the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) Formula Kite Worlds Torregrande, the leading men and women will face-off against one another after the opening three days of the qualifying series established the pecking order.
A remarkable fleet of 138 athletes -89 men and 49 women from 34 countries and six continents- are vying for the world titles after a break of more than two years because of the pandemic.
It is the biggest kitefoil fleet to ever gather, reflecting mushrooming interest, as the event marks the countdown to the Olympics and kiteboarding’s much-anticipated debut at the Paris 2024 Games.
With France hosting the Olympic sailing regatta on the waters off the city of Marseille, the well-resourced national team boasts a squad of 21 athletes at the Worlds, including a number of the world’s fastest racers.
Frenchman Axel Mazella moved to the top of the order, with breathtakingly-quick racing, in which he rarely put a foot wrong, seeing off tough opposition that included Slovenia’s Toni Vodišek, scoring five bullets in his day’s six races.
“I don’t know why, but Toni Vodišek wanted to match race me,” said Mazella. “Everywhere I went he was like a shadow. So, I decided to become more aggressive and tried to put more riders between me and him. Then I tried to just focus on my own game. My starts were often poor, but I’m super-happy with my downwind speed, where I could take and hold the lead.”
Mazella also tried to keep track of the leaders, racing in the three alternate men’s fleets which could be proven crucial to the outcome of the final series should the wind falter over the weekend.
Fellow countryman De Ramecourt had a storming performance in the north-westerly breezes that built during the day. But he let his overnight lead slip from his grasp with a couple of costly errors when he lost focus, taking the gloss off his three bullets.
“It was a really good, if long day,” said De Ramecourt. “I made a couple of small mistakes which cost me two bullets. On the last reach in one race I hit the bottom mark because I was somewhere else in my mind. Another time I went right and it just didn’t work because of the wind shifts. The conditions were hard, but really nice. I am happy.”
In another fleet, Singapore’s Max Maeder, 15, the recently-crowned Open European champion, had an equally stellar outing. He clinched four bullets, but slipped to third place overall. But he, too, suffered some drama in the teasing conditions of his day’s opening race that saw him fail to finish.
“On the downwind leg, my 15m kite just tilted in a fluky gust and smashed into the water,” said Maeder. “It was really difficult to relaunch and that led me out of the race. But I can’t complain about four bullets, especially since the competition in my fleet was tough.”
Among those who battled with Maeder were the remarkable Italian Riccardo Pianosi, 16, who sits fourth overall, France’s Benoît Gomez and Croatia’s Martin Dolenc. A mere three points separate the trio.
Britain’s Connor Bainbridge, duelling on the track with a tough fleet, moved up the standings to fifth overall, courtesy of two bullets towards the end of proceedings, when the breeze stabilised and played to his strengths.
“In the first race I was leading by more than 100 metres, when I gybed going downwind,” said Bainbridge.
“Unfortunately, I hit a wind hole of 10kts, while the others caught a 15kts gust. I went backwards and finished fifth. This psyched me out a bit. But the two firsts helped me regain my confidence. I’m looking forward to going up against all the top guys in the finals series.”
The women’s final series looks set to be similarly engrossing, with France’s Lauriane Nolot hard on the heels of the US’s Moroz in the overall standings. Nolot was battling in an alternate fleet and suffered several big moments.
Two tangles at a mark in separate races bracketed Nolot’s trio of bullets. In the first she managed to get clear quickly, but finished down the order, while the second time she had to retire with a damaged kite.
“After the tangle in the first race, my tactic was just to be as fast as possible, so that I got to the top mark first and kept out of trouble,” said Nolot. “It worked and I got the bullets. Now I’m looking forward to going up against Daniela Moroz.”
Nolot was battling with fellow countrywoman Poema Newland, who managed to race quick and clean, profiting with two bullets and three second places, that leave her comfortably in third place overall.
Britain’s Ellie Aldridge, faced with the formidable task of racing against Moroz, came off a close second four times. But in her day’s last race, the Briton finally got the better of the American, who made a poor start and was unable to pass, giving Aldridge the bullet and fourth place overall.
“In that last race I got off to a good start,” said Aldridge. “I had a good angle upwind. I had enough of a lead. She usually catches up on the second beat. But I just kept going and it paid off.”
Formula Kite World Championships Torregrande-Men (10 races, 2 discards)
1. FRA - Axel Mazella - 9pts
2. FRA - Théo de Ramecourt - 9pts
3. SGP - Max Maeder - 11pts
Formula Kite World Championships Torregrande-Women (12 races, 2 discards)
1. USA - Daniela Moroz - 8pts
2. FRA - Lauriane Nolot - 9.5pts
3. FRA - Poema Newland - 12pts