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North Sails Performance 2023 - LEADERBOARD

La Grande Motte International Regatta: Final dress rehearsal for the Cats and Skiffs

by 49er and Nacra 17 Sailing 4 May 01:28 PDT 7-12 May 2024
La Grande Motte International Regatta 2024 © Didier Hillaire

The Nacra 17 World Championship along with the 49er and 49erFX European Championships is attracting 148 teams to La Grande Motte in the South of France for six days of racing from 7 to 12 May.

Of those 148 crews registered, 39 will represent their country in less than three months in Marseille, location of the 2024 Olympic sailing events. La Grande Motte effectively serves as the final dress rehearsal for the Olympic sailors, a final opportunity to line up on big start lines and experience the hurly-burly of high-traffic mark roundings and tight boat-on-boat tactics. For some, this event is even important as the regatta is serving as the final part of their national qualification trials.

It's been interesting to see how some of the teams that missed out on Olympic selection have been performing at such a high level in recent weeks. Perhaps with the pressure off, they've been able to sail with more freedom. We can expect to see some of those 'non-Olympic' crews to be challenging hard for the podium. Because, after all, this is not just a warm-up for Marseille but a big deal in its own right.

Will, for example, the reigning Olympic and defending World Champions from Italy, Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti, be able to secure another important psychological victory over their rivals in the Nacra 17 multihull fleet?

And what about the stand-out performance of the French team who totally dominated the 49er World Championship in Lanzarote a few weeks ago? Having earned selection ahead of some strong French rivals for the Olympic berth, now is the opportunity for Erwan Fischer and Clément Pequin to cement their position as serious contenders for the Olympic gold medal on home waters this summer.

"La Grande Motte is an important regatta," said Fischer. "It will be the last official event before the Olympics. We will take advantage of this to test equipment and work on different phases of the race. We arrive with a new hull and in terms of hardware, we are practically starting from a blank page. Then, it remains a competition with the desire for us to do well: first qualify in the gold fleet, reach the medal race (final) and if possible get a medal."

Having won the previous three 49er world titles and finishing runners-up to the French earlier this season, Bart Lambriex and Floris van De Werken will be among the toughest opponents on the start line in La Grande Motte.

Out of the 70 teams registered in the 49er skiff fleet, 11 have their ticket to Marseille: the Australian, Canadian, Croatian, French, British, Irish, Dutch, New Zealand, Swiss, Uruguayan and USA teams. Among those still to select their teams are the Austrians and the Polish.

In the women's 49erFX skiff fleet, 10 of the 31 teams present at La Grande Motte already have their place at the Games: the Americans, the Belgians, the Canadians, the Czechs, the Spanish, the Finns, the French, the British, the Italians and the Dutch. As with their male counterparts, Polish women are still in the selection phase.

Charline Picon along with Sarah Steyaert will be the French representatives in 49er FX. Picon (2016 Olympic Champion, 2021 silver medallist in windsurfing) is looking forward to come and race at La Grande Motte where, a few months ago, she acquired an Outremer catamaran for a large-scale project - a long-term family cruise after the Games.

While keeping an eye on her big boat, she remains focused on the competition at hand: "We have work objectives, particularly on starts and communication within the crew. We also have equipment to test and try out before the Games. Obtaining a good result here, obviously, would be good for our confidence, but that is not the main goal. We have very specific technical points to work on in preparation for the Games. It's been a race against time since the start of our project, but we're hanging on, we're convinced that we can do something good, that we have potential. To do this, all the pieces must line up perfectly."

In the Nacra 17 (47 registered), 18 out of the 19 Olympic teams will be present, even if we do not yet know the identity of some of the crews. As of the date of publication, the Austrians, Brazilians, Swedes and Americans are still in their selection phase.

Tim Mourniac and Lou Berthomieu will compete at their first Olympic Games for France. "The challenge is twofold for us here," said Mourniac. "We are arriving in full swing with a new boat, and it's only recently that Lou returned from a serious injury. So our first imperative is to test the boat. Then, do the best you can in terms of results. Since the start of the year, we have been operating with multiple objectives: once the boat has been proven, we attack and if we have the weapons, then we aim for performance. The idea of this World Championship is also to see how to win the Games, knowing that all our future competitors are there. Looking statistically at where we need to place the cursor in terms of risk taking on the race course."

Paul Kohlhoff (GER), bronze medallist in the Nacra 17 at the Tokyo 2020 Games with Alica Stuhlemmer, is again selected for Germany and is looking forward to racing again at this venue: "This is not my first competition here at La Grande Motte. I made my debut there in 2014, during the European Championships. We were still very young (less than 20 years old) and we were on our way to the 2016 Games. After Rio, I returned with my current teammate, Alica, for the World Championship in 2017. It was the start of our Olympic campaign together and we have great memories of it. After two difficult days, we managed to get into the medal race at the last minute, an epic medal race, very windy, with quite a few crashes, which we won. We finished 5th overall. This year, these World Championships are happening very shortly before the Games, which is quite rare. Our goal here is to test hardware. It is also the last performance test against our competitors. And we are super happy at the idea of racing here in the middle of a very strong fleet. Succeeding in a good World Championship helps build confidence, that's for sure, for everyone."

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