EuroChallenge 2012 (Spain) - Day 1

Sunday, 06 May 2012 07:55 | Written by 
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Lined up and ready to go - EuroChallenge 2012 Lined up and ready to go - EuroChallenge 2012 Credits: Sally Mellish

Van Gysen is pulling ahead of McGregor… it’s his race to lose.  No!  He’s heading for the harbor instead of the buoy…  He’s realized; he’s turned.  McGregor’s right up with him!  He’s around, they’re sprinting for the finish…”

Tight finish

The official results say it all:

  1. Simon van Gysen 1:32:24.871
  2. Hank McGregor 1:32:25.057

In surfski racing, it doesn’t come much closer than that.

And Sean Rice, coming in third, was close on their heels, arriving in 1:32:36.94.  Australian Jeremy Cotter was 33 seconds off the pace, arriving in 1:32:58.365.

No wind, no waves

“At least it’s cool!” said’s commentary spotter Sally Mellish on the referee boat as she contemplated the oily-calm Mediterranean.  “But then, I’d be seasick if it wasn’t…”

Strong Field

If the weather didn’t play ball (and it never has at this event, which seems to have consistently bad luck with the wind), that didn’t stop some of the best surfski paddlers in the world arriving to fight for the Oceanpaddler World Series points on offer.

A fired up Jeremy Cotter had flown in from Australia with compatriots Michael Booth, Cory Hill, Bill Bain and Hayden Smith.  More than ready to take them on, the South African contingent was lead by current world marathon champion Hank McGregor, current surfski world champion Dawid Mocke, past EuroChallenge winner Sean Rice and…  dark horse Simon van Gysen, newly sponsored by the Italian manufacturer Allwave.  Oscar Chalupsky, fit from his Molokai training was hoping for downwind conditions.

Aside from them, a host of European talent in the shape of Spain’s Kiko Vega, Dani Viloria and Walter Sanchez; the Netherlands’ Joep van Bakel; German Michael Dobler and… paddlers from nearly 30 countries around the world including Israel and Venezuela… Surfski truly is a global sport.

The course

Today’s course was set as the “classic” out-and-back from the lovely little town of  La Vila Joiosa out to (the spectacular) Isla del Descubridor and back via La Cala.

EuroChallenge 2012

The paddlers could expect no help from the insignificant breeze, but were rewarded with small bumps for about 3km of the 20-odd km course.  It was brutally hard work – an “honest paddle”.

In a nutshell…

Four paddlers broke away early:  Jeremy Cotter took the first hotspot about 1km into the race, but Sean Rice, Hank McGregor and Simon van Gysen were close behind and soon the rest of the fleet, including Dawid Mocke, were off the bunch – and you don’t catch up with a bunch like that easily.

Fenn hotspot

Cotter took the Fenn hotspot, Sean Rice close on his heels

Breaking away

Just over half way into the race, the four leaders reappeared from behind the island.  Sean Rice was leading – and accelerated into a commanding position…   headed off towards the wrong buoy, too far to the right. By the time he realized what was going on, the others had made up the gap.  “Schoolboy error!” he admitted afterwards ruefully, “I was in my own zone…”

As they approached the Think hotspot, on the way back to La Vila Joiosa, Hank McGregor perceptibly increased his cadence and, seemingly with little effort, overtook Rice to claim the 500 Euro hotspot prize.

McGregor leads

McGregor leads, Sean Rice and Jeremy Cotter riding slip

The group split a little, and the race looked over, except that Simon van Gysen, who’d kept in unobtrusive contact with the group the whole race, was still stuck like glue onto the tail of McGregor’s Fenn ski.  Rice and Cotter fell back, Cotter slipstreaming Rice, but then they were back, in a tight bunch.

And that’s how it continued – for long minutes as they approached the final stages of the race.

And then, with the harbor wall in sight, van Gysen made his move, inexorably pulling level with McGregor, and then past creating an ever-increasing gap until, as they approached the finish, van Gysen was several boat lengths clear.

And that’s where he so nearly gave it all away.

Before turning back to the finish in the harbor, the skis were obliged to go a short distance past the harbor and around a buoy.

But Van Gysen, passing the end of the harbor wall then steered directly towards the harbor mouth only to realize, almost too late, what he’d done.  Heart in mouth, he swerved back and managed to round the buoy just in front of McGregor.

McGregor and van Gysen

McGregor and van Gysen dice to the finish

On the way back to the finish line, the two men, sprinting for all they were worth, separated and it looked for an instant as though McGregor had done enough.

But not:  Van Gysen caught a tiny bump; McGregor missed it and van Gysen went on to take one of the closest finishes in surfski history.

“It was a great race,” said McGregor.  “All credit to Simon for his win.”

Not over yet.

I spoke to Simon van Gysen at the finish.  An understated, laid back character, he simply said, “there’s another race tomorrow – and there’s only seconds between the top guys.”

EuroChallenge - top 4

Simon van Gysen (1st), Jeremy Cotter (2nd), Sean Rice (3rd), Hank McGregor (4th) 

Notable performances

The Europeans had three in the top ten (Kiko Vega, Dani Viloria and Walter Sanchez in 7, 8, 9 respectively).

Oscar Chalupsky came in 11th, 1st in the veteran’s category and an outstanding result giving his loathing of flat conditions.  The big O has been training hard for Molokai, which takes place later this month; if the wind blows (Molokai hasn’t seen classic downwind conditions for about 6 years now – it’s time) my money’s on the big man to take his twelfth Molokai title.

Oscar Chalupsky’s GPS Track

EuroChallenge Day 1

Women’s race

Jenna Hawkey dominated, with France’s Angie Mouden coming in an excellent second place.

Next Race

Sunday’s race is the “downwind” point-to-point leg of the event – but the forecast is looking, if anything, even worse than today.

The overall result is calculated by combining the times of the two races.

See you in the morning on!

EuroChallenge 2012

Results – Day 1

Click here for the overall results

Click here for the category results

Transcript – Live Commentary

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