by Leonard Liesens
Caroll Gatelier photos
The course was tough and dangerous in some places. All riders, even the ones achieving a good placing, were unanimous - of course, the riders eliminated are often tending to complaining about this and that.
Portions very technical during the first stage (this with of courses fresh and sometimes excited horses, sometimes ridden by inexperienced riders), swamps during the second stage (this definition was used by JF Francès, the French rider completed 8th), very wet and knee-deep muddy places and of course lots of lost shoes.
The weather conditions from the previous days annihilated all efforts to present a nice course. Jean Louis Leclerc (former French chef d’equipe) was running into despair and pulling his last hairs (sorry, Jean-Louis, I know, it’s easy and naughty) while looking at the sky. On top of that, it was pouring with rain the night before the start. So the competition did not augur well...
But... but... there were many and repeated requests during the chef d’equipe meetings to reduce the minimal speed back to a more decent value. In the beginning (in the schedule) it was said that EACH VETGATE had a closing time (calculate on 15 km/h). During the last meeting, they accepted (after a lot of pressure) to enforce ONLY after the 3rd vetgate this minimal speed. Already better as smart riders could better cope with that on a 100km distance than at each loop - the first stage was the most difficult!!!
Unfortunately, the organizing commitee didn’t want to listen to the requests from the “small nations”’s chefs d’equipe. “If the conditions were to become really tough, the minimal speed would be reviewed, as it is stated in the regulations”… This was the short and final answer from the president of the ground jury. No comments from the technical delegate. So, that’s too bad, let’s then go and run our horse into the ground...
Seing the outcome of the race and considering the tactic adopted by the various countries, it was very clear that the ‘small’ nations were frightened by this minimal speed at 15 km/h. Many went too fast, took too many risks during the initial stage. The horses were fresh, of course, and at this stage the effects on the metabolic do not show… that come later, for some already after the second loop, and for many many others after the third loop. But if, let’s say, it was announced FROM THE BEGINNING, that the speed was 13 km/h, these riders would have managed differently. They would have slowed down in the mud, recollected their horses when approaching the turns, reduced the pace. Maybe they wouldn’t have completed the 160 km, but this slaughter during 2nd and 3rd vetgate wouldn’t have taken place.
Alas ! It’s only after the second loop that the minimal speed has been reviewed, back to 14 km/h. It was too late, the damage was already done. Was had been taken from the horses’s reserves couldn’t be refueled.
Of course, we do not have the same tactic as we plan to race at 13 km/h in place of 15 km/h. This was not understood by either the president of jury or the technical delegate (when was the last time they rode in endurance…). The riders who rushed at the start and cruised in the lead wouldn’t have changed anything, that’s for sure. But others, the riders who came to get an honorable completion! Impossible for a chef d’equipe or any rider to guess at what speed to ride, the stats from last year were not applicable.
The worst in that : the organizers, the chef de piste, the technical delegate have seen the course the day before. They normally knew about the hazards, the possible effects of the humid weather, etc. Because we know that Normandy and rain are good friends. We know about the rain in Belgium too and therefore we take this parameter into account when drawing a circuit.
The reality became obvious to the riders only in the morning, when they discovered the trail. Many were already worried when practicing the days before on the white loop, the training track of 10km. Already after the second loop, there were many eliminations. And the biggest contingent felt after the third one. Most of the eliminations were due to metabolic reasons and this has never been seen before!
The French team was smart enough and patient. They didn’t run into panic while many competitors were ahead of them. They did well in the rough terrain, they are good riders, they ride good horses, they were cautious in the difficult portions. Perfection.
Spain made full profit of its two jackrabbits , Punti and Arboix completing 5th and 6th after a perfect race. The third nation was Switzerland taking advantage of the outstanding result (4th place) of Barbara Lissarague who has the double nationality French/Swiss. The two other Swiss riders rode all the time at 15 km/h to clinch the bronze. Of course, they were lucky that every other nation broke, but don’t you need luck in order to win?
United States was claiming for victory, well this is was could be read in the press before the competition. They went back, tail between the legs. They went too fast.
Belgium was presented as a good pretender for a team medal. But they lost a first rider at the second vetgate, then two and their illusions at the same time at the third vetgate.
There were no other nation except the three on the podium able to classify one team, which speaks for itself.
So what will remain from this WEG ? The nice footage broadcasted by Dubai TV, the victory of SH Hamdam and the second place of Marijke Visser on a borrowed UAE horse (is that a sign of the times), the death of the Costa Rica’s horse.
More photos at http://www.endurance-belgium.com/
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