First skirmishes at Europeans upset the form book in thrilling racing in Italy

The opening exchanges at the 2019 Formula Kite European Championships being fought out on the glorious track on the Gulf of Oristano off the Italian resort island of Sardinia threw up a host of surprises with several unexpected winners and losers.

But after five scintillating races for each of the men’s and women’s fleets, France’s Axel Mazella got his nose in front after he seized four bullets, a feat matched by Formula Kite world champion Daniela Moroz (USA).

Battling in the alternate men’s “qualifying series” flight, Mazella’s fellow countryman Benoit Gomez, 18, landed a pair of bullets and seconds in searingly-quick racing  on smooth waters and perfect north-easterly 10kts breezes, giving him second overall.

One of the bigger upsets of day one of the scheduled five saw Slovenia’s Toni Vodisek down in fifth spot overall. So dominant at last week’s KiteFoil World Series in China, he had a slightly chequered outing at the Torregrande regatta, sponsored by the Region of Sardinia and the Sardinia Foundation.

Yet with 60-strong men’s fleet split into two flights for the “qualifying series” which will seed the top athletes for the closing two days' “finals series”, he merely has made the top half of the cut to keep himself in contention for the coveted European title. The women’s fleet of 30 will compete over a planned 20 races for the title.

Germany’s Leonie Meyer came out on top in the struggle for second spot behind the dominant Moroz. The medical student traded top spots in a battle royal with Justina Kitchen (NZL), Britain’s Ellie Aldridge and Australia’s Breiana Whitehead.

Meyer, on her 18m Flysurfer Sonic Race, clinched two seconds and a third in the women’s fleet’s five races. That just gave her the edge over mother-of-two Kitchen, though both were equal on points on the leaderboard.

“I wasn’t expecting it all,” said Meyer. “I’m fine when I’m in the top ten. I’d no idea I was going to be at the top. This year I haven’t had time to train because of my studies. I was a bit scared beforehand. But it’s still a long way to go.”

Britain’s Aldridge grabbed a bullet in the day’s final race after Moroz had one of her more forgettable forays, adding to the duo of thirds that left her poised to fourth spot overall.

“I won that last one. Great,” said Aldridge. “In the middle few races I was getting in trouble at the starts. In the last race I decided I was going to stay away and get a nice gap and go fast. It was really fun actually. Just kept it simple. I was having a grand battle with the other girls.”

Spain’s Gisela Pulido Borrell, former multiple freestyle world champion and still one of kiteboarding’s biggest names, is new to the fight. She made her kitefoil racing debut after just one month’s training, finishing the day 19th overall.

“I crashed pretty hard in one race, but so far, so good,” said Pulido. “I’m loving racing. Coming from freestyle it’s so different, especially on the start line with all the others around you. But holding the position, the angles and speed and knowing when to tack and gybe. It’s not easy. You have to really focus. The main thing is, it’s great there are so many girls.”

France’s Gomez, also a relative newcomer, was revelling in his second overall among a field laced with many of the world’s quickest men, with Vodisek and Germany’s Florian Gruber his flight’s toughest rivals.

“I’m very, very happy,” said Gomez, after his first-ever bullet. “The first upwind leg was good and I got to the top mark first. I kept an eye on Vodisek and Gruber at first, but then I managed to keep ahead all the way round the course. Very happy.”

Top five men after five races (one discard)

1 Axel Mazella (FRA)               4pts
2 Benoit Gomez (FRA)             6pts
3 Théo de Ramecourt (FRA)    8pts
4 Florian Gruber (GER)            9pts
5 Toni Vodisek (SLO)               10pts

Top five women after five races (one discard)

1 Daniela Moroz (USA)           4pts
2 Leonie Meyer (GER)            11pts
3 Justina Kitchen (NZL)           11pts
4 Ellie Aldridge (GBR)             12pts
5 Breiana Whitehead (AUS)    15pts