Gusty Winds and Tough Conditions Test Racers’ Mettle at KiteFoil World Championships Act 1

Margins separating the world’s leading kitefoilers are extremely fine. Reigning European and KiteFoil GoldCup champion, Monegasque rider Maxime Nocher, almost had a perfect day but was literally pipped at the post.

Florian Trittel (ESP) just overhauled Nocher on a searing reach to the finish on their last race of the day, but in doing so the Spaniard caught a mark line with his foil and was catapulted off his board. Still, it was enough to secure a win and deprive Nocher of five bullets from five races.

French rider Axel Mazella and Italian Riccardo Leccese, competing in the other two of three race fleets on day one of the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) KiteFoil GoldCup at Gizzeria, southern Italy, suffered no similar misfortunes. Each racked up five wins in their respective fleets to leave them equal top in the standings.

By dint of Nocher's second place finish, which was dispensed with when discards kicked-in after five races, he found himself in third position but remained equal in the day’s overall points’ standings. On the track off Hang Loose Beach, in the shadow of dramatic Calabrian hills, races were similarly tight with leaders invariably finishing within seconds of one-another.

The 63 racers from 26 countries were divided into three fleets for the first of the two-day qualifying series, with eight women competing with the men. On completion of the qualifiers, the riders will be seeded in three fleets for the final two days in the medals series.

The Italy stop of the KiteFoil GoldCup world championship is the first of four planned legs.
Events are set for Turkey, followed by South Korea, with the overall winner crowned in Qatar towards year’s end.

But first will come tougher and tougher racing as both riders and equipment in the “open” kitefoil class continue their headlong development, improving speeds and angles on the race track at frantic pace.

There are few better illustrations of the speed of change than the dramatically improving performances of Italian Mario Calbucci, 19. On his handmade Italian Banga hydrofoil, a new-comer to the kitefoil scene, he scored four second places from five in his fleet.

In the testing conditions, with the shifty winds averaging 14kts but gusting to an uncharacteristic 20kts, Calbucci deployed a 9m Elf Joker6 foil kite to good effect on the two laps of the windward-leeward track that the leaders completed in around 11 blistering minutes despite the one-metre swells.

“My Banga foil is working really well,” said a clearly delighted Calbucci. “We tested it out just before competition started. The carbon’s strong and stiff, so it’s ideal for the strong winds we’re getting.”
Calbucci was only bested slightly in the standings by the young Briton Olly Bridge, competing in an alternate fleet where he notched up five second places from five. On his Levitaz Aspect Bionic hydrofoil and Elf Joker foil kites he again showed great consistency and devastating speed.
But perhaps one of the day’s biggest surprises was the emergence of a new face, a French rider from New Caledonia, Titouan Galea, 19. He burst onto the scene with four seconds and a third to end in seventh place overall, putting down his marker for the coming days.

“I’ve been training in France with the French team for the past three months,” he said by way of explanation for his stellar performance. “But it’s the kind of conditions I’m used to in New Caledonia. I think I’m better in the strong winds with my 9m kite, than in lighter winds.”

Another unexpected result was Irish rider Jade O’Connor topping the women’s standings, ahead of Alexia Fancelli (FRA) and European champion, Russia’s Elena Kalinina. But with even tougher conditions and higher winds forecast for day two, the likelihood of the whole pack being reshuffled seems strong.

Overall standings after five qualifying series races (one discard).

1 Riccardo Leccese (ITA, Ozone/MikesLab) - 4 pts
1 Axel Mazella (FRA, F-One/F-One) - 4 pts
3 Maxime Nocher (MON, F-One/Taaroa) - 4 pts
4 Oliver Bridge (GBR, Elf/Levitaz) - 8 pts
5. Mario Calbucci (ITA, Elf/Banga) - 8 pts

1 Jade O'Connor (IRL, Elf/Banga) - 9 pts
2 Alexia Fancelli (FRA, Airush/Flysurfer/Taaroa) - 51 pts
3 Elena Kalinina (RUS, Elf/Moses) - 52 pts
4 Gina Hewson (NZL, Ozone/Spotz) - 55 pts

Full results:

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