EuroChallenge 2018 - Race Report

Wednesday, 09 May 2018 09:56 | Written by 
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Sean Rice wins the 2018 EuroChallenge Surfski Race Sean Rice wins the 2018 EuroChallenge Surfski Race

Kenny flew off the line,” said Sean Rice. “I had to consolidate, stay on his wave to the buoy. I knew I couldn’t give him an inch… I went hard for 3km to try to open a gap; looked around, he was still right there!” And what he didn’t know was that “Flash” Gordan Harbrecht was also right behind him…

The paddlers were dicing in the first big international race of the European season: EuroChallenge 2018 off La Vila Joyosa, Spain.

The Route

With a good 20kt forecast WSW wind, there was no doubt which course the organisers would chose: Start on the beach at El Campello, 500m out to sea to a buoy, turn 90 degrees left and head 17km straight downwind to the finish in the harbour entrance at La Vila Joyosa.

Kenny track

EuroChallenge Route (and Kenny Rice's race data on Strava)

“They were really unlucky the first few times they ran the race,” said Sean Rice. “The event got a bit of reputation for hot, flat conditions. But things have changed completely; four out the last five races have had good downwinds.”

The event had declared a two-day waiting period with a lifesaving-style knockout event scheduled for the “other” day. Race Director Antoine Ferrer chose to run the main event on Sunday to ensure the best possible downwind conditions.

“The lifesaving event was great fun,” said Sean Rice. “Perfect for getting on the water and loosening up a bit. The race threw a bit of prizemoney at it too, and all the top paddlers took part.”  Esteban Medina (Spain) won the men’s final with Jenna Ward (South Africa) winning the women’s race.

EuroChallenge…

The day of the main race dawned, the paddlers checked their boats on the trailers, picked up and activated their tracking units and made their way to the buses to be transported to El Campello.

Sean Rice got to the beach even earlier. “I’ve spent so little time on the sea this year,” he laughed, “that I actually went down for a paddle on the morning of the race just to get a few minutes more in the waves before the race.”

Women's Race

“I’ve won this race before,” said Chloë Bunnett, “but this time we had real opposition!” Top Spanish athletes including Judit Vergés Xifra, Amaia Osabo Olaberri and Aurora Figueras Palomeras were lined up, as well as South African Jenna Ward.

“The conditions were pefect,” Bunnett said. “The wind was more westerly than normal; direct from the turn buoy to the finish, with a big swell coming over your right shoulder.”

After a quick glance at the buoy to see where her opposition was, Bunnett focussed on the waves. “I decided to ignore the others; to concentrate and put the hammer down, link as many as possible and ride the big ones where I could.”

She had her GPS showing 1km splits, which told her how well she was progressing. “It was really exciting: the splits were great, and I knew if I could keep it up, it would be tough for anyone to overtake me,” she said.

Having paddled the course many times before, she knew exactly where she was and which line she wanted to take into the finish. By then the wind and waves had both strengthened and she concentrated on achieving her best splits over the final 2-3km.

“It was my fastest average speed in a race ever,” she commented.

But when she arrived at the finish, there was a problem. When she asked where she’d come, the reply was, “oh, you’re definitely in the top 40!” Not what she wanted to know… and in the turmoil of wind, waves and skis, it was another 20 minutes before she found someone to confirm that she had in fact won the women’s race!

"I was super-stoked," she said.  "I've been training really hard; a superb start to the season."

Chloe Bunnett

Chloe Bunnett cross the line - but had she won?

Men’s Race

The men’s race was a flat-out sprint with Sean Rice working an inside line in smaller runs, with Gordan Harbrecht, while Kenny Rice headed out to sea.

“It was a little like a reverse Miller’s Run at home,” said Kenny. “It was small to begin with, but building, with bigger ocean swells coming from behind on the right from the gale-force winds out at sea. You had to be careful which runs you took so as not to be pushed too far inshore.”

Tactics

Kenny’s tactics were to head further offshore to where the bigger runs were and then to angle in on them, at a higher speed.

“Sean was muscling over the smaller runs, but I wanted some height to come in at the end,” Kenny said.

The plan almost worked: Kenny’s last three splits were all under 3:20 per km, but Sean was too far ahead.

But the race wasn’t quite over...

Mind Tricks

Sean Rice had a minor panic at the finish; he was aware of Kenny riding the bigger runs and catching up rapidly to his right. His mind started playing tricks on him: “I thought I saw a buoy to the right and instantly connected it to Kenny – I suddenly thought that that was why he’d gone deep, he knew about the buoy and I didn’t.”

Sean veered out to sea for a few moments before coming to his senses (there was no buoy) and heading directly to the finish, crossing the line just under 13 seconds in front of Kenny.

“I was so stoked with the win,” said Sean Rice. “I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kayak, so I wasn’t sure where I was in the surfski at all. This was the first downwind in a LONG time!”

Rice Brothers Finish

Sean and Kenny Rice - 1 and 2

Spain v Germany

Meanwhile, a few hundred metres back, Esteban Medina was dicing with Gordan Harbrecht for third place.

“My race was good,” said Harbrecht. “The first half I was close to the Rice brothers, but as it got wilder, they built up a gap. Esteban just passed me at the end!

“The downwind paddling in SA definitely helped,” he added. (Harbrecht spent two weeks in Cape Town in March paddling multiple downwinds every day on the infamous Miller’s Run.)

Medina was full of praise for the race: “EuroChallenge used to be flat…,” he said. “But for the last four years it’s been a crazy downwind race - not dangerous, just very nice conditions. This year was one of the best…

“In my case, I am really happy. I was fourth until 3km from the end, the waves got bigger and helped me to catch Gordan.

“We’re trying to catch the South Africans… we are working, need to improve a little bit more… Two minutes in an hour is too much… But we’re improving…!”

The South Africans were both full of praise for the Europeans. “Gordan had a phenomenal race,” said Kenny Rice. “He overtook me 500m from the buoy and I only pulled back 4-5km into the race.”

Esteban Medina 3rd

Esteban Medina - 3rd

Oscar Chalupsky’s Race Video

Oscar revelled in the conditions, taking a very wide line to get out into the big waves that he loves.  He won the over 50s by miles and came a highly respectable 8th overall.

Oscar Track

Click here for Oscar's GPS track on Garmin Connect

He made an instructional video from footage he shot during the race – very well worth watching; it not only shows the conditions, but shows how he catches and works the runs.

 

Safety

“It’s great to see how far the race has come,” Sean Rice said. “Six years ago, with conditions like that, the organisers would have been really concerned about safety. Now they’re concerned with providing the paddlers with what they want.

Everyone has a tracker for safety – but the paddlers are also far more competent in the conditions.”

Cracking organisation, race officials who understand surfski paddling and have a genuine desire to give the paddlers ideal downwind conditions… What more could you want?

La Vila Joyosa is also the venue for the European Surfski Championships later in the year.

Results Summary

(Click here for the full results)

Men

  1. SEAN RICE (SOUTH AFRICA) 1:03:00:678
  2. KENNETH RICE (SOUTH AFRICA) 1:03:13:535
  3. ESTEBAN MEDINA OJEDA (SPAIN) 1:05:35:286
  4. GORDAN HARBRECHT (GERMANY) 1:05:50:262
  5. NOÉ PELIZZA (FRANCE) 1:06:54:639
  6. NICOLAS LAMBERT (FRANCE) 1:07:32:04
  7. DANIEL SANCHEZ VILORIA (SPAIN) 1:07:50:376
  8. OSCAR CHALUPSKY (GERMANY) 1:08:16:872
  9. BENOIT LE ROUX (FRANCE) 1:08:28:705
  10. ALBERT COROMINAS BERTRAN (SPAIN) 1:08:35:587

Women

Women top 3

  1. CHLOE BUNNETT (SPAIN) 1:16:18:110
  2. JUDIT VERGÉS XIFRA (SPAIN) 1:17:45:847
  3. AMAIA OSABA OLABERRI (SPAIN) 1:17:54:181
  4. JENNA WARD (SOUTH AFRICA) 1:19:40:601
  5. AURORA FIGUERAS PALOMERAS (SPAIN) 1:20:38:790
  6. LUCIA SERRALTA FERRER (SPAIN) 1:24:03:011
  7. LIZELLE KEMP (SCOTLAND) 1:26:01:434
  8. MARIA VAELLO SANTAMARIA (SPAIN) 1:28:15:118 

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