Nail-biting finale at first Formula Kite Mixed Relay Europeans crowns champions
Britain’s Ellie Aldridge and Connor Bainbridge clinched the inaugural Formula Kite Mixed Relay European Championship title in dramatic fashion in a final that went down to the wire at Torregrande, on the stupendous Italian resort island of Sardinia.
In the finals’ showdown second round, Bainbridge handed Aldridge the lead for the second lap of the windward-leeward track on the Gulf of Oristano, but she missed a tack and slipped to third by the time she rounded the top mark.
The mistake handed the lead to Poland’s Magda Woyciechowska, teamed with Maks Zakowski. They were agonisingly-close to getting the win, taking them closer to sealing title in the novel format, which will be rolled out when kiteboarding makes its debut at the 2024 Paris Olympics’ sailing venue in Marseille.
But as Aldridge put the hammer down and hunted her rivals on the final downwind leg, the 14-year-old Pole fluffed a gybe at the last mark in the light and spotty breezes. Woyciechowska suffered the dismay of watching Aldridge sail past without a backward glance to cross the line to win and land the title for the British team.
“I think my heart’s going to explode,” said Aldridge, as she waded ashore on Torregrande beach. “I missed a tack before the mark when the wind gusted to the left on the upwind leg and she [Woyciechowska] got past me. Then she dropped a gybe in a lull and I was able to take her. It was all so mad.”
Bainbridge, who led off on the first lap of both finals’ races and helped the pair take the two wins that clinched the title, had the discomfort of watching powerlessly as his team-mate squandered the advantage, before rescuing the situation.
“It was a very long day,” said Bainbridge, with measured understatement. “They’re very quick races. We chose that I would go first, whereas the Polish team put their woman on the first lap. The problem is you have to watch the other person being overtaken—that’s great fun.”
The tension mounted throughout the day of short, sharp races in the single-elimination format. Favourites, including the US team’s Daniela Moroz and Evan Heffernan, Mixed Relay winners at the Formula Kite Worlds test event, fell by the way side. Moroz’s kite inverted in a gust and she failed to finish, and she was subsequently disqualified for going over the start line early in the next race.
The Mixed Relay European Championships event aims to fine-tune the format where national teams of one man and one women each complete a single lap of the track, with the added drama of a flying “hand-over”. The mixed teams achieve the gender parity goal sought by the International Olympic Committee.
One day of a scheduled five at the individual International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) Europeans in Torregrande, sponsored by the Region of Sardinia and the Sardinia Foundation, was allocated for the Mixed Relay event.
Twenty-two teams from 12 nations among the 90 athletes competing at the Europeans signed up for the title fight in the shifty, northerly 8kts breezes blowing over the gulf’s flat waters.
The blisteringly-quick “short-track” races close to the beach barely lasted six minutes each, with the stunning Sinis Peninsula backdrop adding a stadium feel and a heightened sense of drama.
The big French contingent, supported by two national sailing federation coaches and a physiotherapist, fielded five teams. All made it to the semi-finals, but only one survived to make finals’ showdown where the British team triumphed ahead of Russia’s Valeria Garashchenko and Alexey Chibizov, and New Zealand’s Justina Kitchen and Lukas Walton-Keim.
2019 Formula Kite Mixed Relay European Championships
1 Ellie Aldridge / Connor Bainbridge (GBR)
2 Valeria Garashchenko / Alexey Chibizov (RUS)
3 Justina Kitchen / Lukas Walton-Keim (NZL)
4 Magda Woyciechowska / Maks Zakowski (POL)
5 Leonie Meyer / Florian Gruber (GER)
Top five men after 10 races (two discards)
1Théo de Ramecourt (FRA) 10pts
2 Axel Mazella (FRA) 11pts
3 Toni Vodisek (SLO) 14pts
4 Benoit Gomez (FRA) 14pts
5 Florian Gruber (GER) 19pts
Top five women after 10 races (two discards)
1 Daniela Moroz (USA) 4pts
2 Ellie Aldridge (GBR) 26pts
3 Breiana Whitehead (AUS) 28pts
4 Justina Kitchen (NZL) 32pts
5 Leonie Meyer (GER) 37pts
Full results: www.formulakite.com