by Craig Heydon
The Semaine Olympique Francaise, fourth round of the ISAF Sailing World Cup, will get underway on Sunday in Hyeres, France with the event being an opportunity for Australian sailors to fine-tune their preparations ahead of a number of World Championships next month.
Australian 470s train in Hyeres
Throughout May World Championships will take place in the 49er, 470, Laser, Laser Radial and Finn classes across Europe with next week’s regatta in Hyeres an important buildup event.
26 Australian crews will compete across nine Olympic and Paralympic classes with a number of crews keen to continue their strong starts to the European season.
Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page lead the Australian charge in the 470 men’s class with six crews making the trip to France.
Belcher and Page, reigning 470 World Champions, sit at the top of the ISAF Sailing World Cup standings after beginning their year with two Golds and a Silver from three events.
'We’re feeling pretty confident and are in good shape having done a lot of work back in Australia before heading to Europe,' said Belcher. 'Our win in Palma was a good confirmation for us of where we’re at with our equipment and against the competition.
'This week we’re just focusing on ourselves, we’ve got a lot of things to do,' he said. 'We enjoyed a bit of time off after Palma to refocus and are looking forward to racing here.'
Joining Belcher and Page in the 87 boat strong 470 men’s fleet will be Sam Kivell and Will Ryan, who had a 10th place finish in Palma, Alexander and Patrick Conway, Matthew and Robert Crawford, Rob Size and Scott Cotton and Matthew and Ben Taylor.
Nine Australians will line up in the Laser fleet including current World Champion and world number one Tom Slingsby and Tom Burton, who won Bronze in Palma.
Burton sailed exceptionally well in light conditions that tested the crews for much of the regatta in Palma, leading the class for part of the week, going on to win the medal race and claim the Bronze medal.
The Australian Sailing Team’s Laser coach, Sydney 2000 Bronze medalist Michael Blackburn, will keep a watchful eye over the nine Laser sailors in Hyeres with Ashley Brunning, Ryan Palk, Jared West, Matthew Wearn, James Burman, Klade Hauschildt, and Ki-Raphael Sulkowski all joining Slingsby and Burton in the fleet.
49er World Champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen kick off their 2012 campaign in Hyeres with the pair back racing in the 49er for the first time since claiming their second world title together last December in Perth.
While Outteridge has been away from the 49er he’s still been sailing at the highest level, recently skippering Team Korea to fifth place at the America’s Cup World Series in Naples, Italy.
'We had a good event in Naples in the fleet racing and managed to knock off fellow Australians Darren Bundock and Tom Slingsby and beat Artemis as well, which was great for us,' said Outteridge. 'We weren’t too far off the pace and were normally in the top few, managing to come fifth in almost every race.'
Outteridge is now focused on 49er racing as he and crew Iain Jensen prepare for next month’s World Championships in Croatia, with next week’s event in France the first time they’ve contested it together since teaming up in 2009.
'We’ve just arrived in Hyeres after three days of driving around Europe to get all our equipment down here,' he said. 'We’re going for a variety this year, with the worlds in Croatia starting in a couple of weeks we thought it was important to get over here and do a lead up event.'
Australia’s Women’s Match Racing crew of Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty will be keen to continue their medal winning start to the year in Hyeres, having been on the podium in Miami and Palma.
Price and crew won Silver in January in Miami, backing the result up with the Bronze medal in Palma.
In the Laser Radial class Krystal Weir will be out to continue the early season form that took her to fifth in Palma and will be joined on the start line by fellow Australians Alexandra South and Caitlin Elks.
'I’m feeling quite confident heading into this event, Palma demonstrated to me that I have the speed and it’s just a matter of putting it all together,' said Weir. 'I’m ironing out a few little things that popped up in Palma and the important thing is to get confidence in what I’m doing.'
Brendan Casey is the sole Australian in the Finn fleet with the Gold Coast based sailor building towards next month’s World Championships in England.
Fresh off being named to represent Australia at the London 2012 Paralympic Games Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch will be in action in the Skud 18 fleet.
Last week the pair won the 2012 Access World Championships at Middle Harbour Yacht Club, their first event since winning Gold at the ISAF Sailing World Cup round in Miami in January.
'We go into this event off the back of a week training at home and the Access World Championships in Sydney so we’re ready to get out on the water and go racing,' said Tesch. 'We have a history of not being so strong at the start of an event so I think it will be nice to come out ready and firing at the beginning of this event.'
Luke Baillie, Patrick Vos and Jimmy Levy will race in the RS:X men’s fleet while Paul McKenzie and Philip Toth will line up in the Star class.
Racing begins in Hyeres on Sunday 22 April and continues until Friday 27 April.
Australian Sailing Team website