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Real Work Pays Off For Belcher

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  • Real Work Pays Off For Belcher

    At the 49 Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar Olympic classes regatta on the Bay of Palma Australians Mat Belcher and Will Ryan return to the 470 after a six month break and today climbed to the top of the 470 Men's leaderboard after a 3,1 in what proved to be relatively light airs during their two heats.

    The duo, Olympic silver medallists in Rio, current World Champions and class winners here in 2016, maintain they are here to shed any ring rustiness and check in with the strong fleet here, but they appeared to be right into their stride.

    "It was a bit lighter than we expected. We started the race in about 15kts and then it died away quickly. So it was a light wind day and so because we have not raced in six months it is good to be back. We feel quite fresh if a little bit rusty and we are here in a big fleet to learn our lessons early on in the season rather than later when it becomes more critical." double Olympic medallist and five times World Champion Belcher noted.

    "We did not really know what to expect here, it is our chance to be back racing in the boat. We have done a little training but not much."

    "I have been doing some 'real work' at home doing developing some residential buildings which is a bit of a change from this. Will has been racing the M32s. We will do Hyeres and then head back to Australia for a bit. I think we will miss the Europeans but we will see how we go."

    In the 49er Class the 30th birthday for world champion helm Dylan Fletcher Scott was celebrated quietly as he and Olympic silver medallist Stu Bithell with a strong 1,1,2 to take the overall fleet lead after six qualifying races.
    "That's enough of a birthday present for him. He's getting nothing 'til the end of the week. The big present would be to win here." quipped Bithell who won 2012 Olympic silver in the 470. The duo have medalled at every 49er event since they paired up last year.

    "Neither of us have won here and so that is the objective. We are here to win, it is always to win!" grinned Fletcher-Scott, "We thought there would be slightly more breeze today and it was light and that made it slightly more tricky. But we were on it. We made some good decisions, had some good speed and good enough starts to make sure we had a nice day.

    At 30 I suppose I'm one of the older ones in the fleet and so it is nice to be showing the nippers how to get around the course.

    Returning to the 49er fleet for a one regatta only cameo appearance is popular Italian helm Pietro Sibello just as GBR's double gold medallist Sarah Ayton is doing in the FX fleet stepping in to the crew's job for Sweden's Julia Gross. Sibello is commited to Italy's Luna Rossa America's Cup programme but has taken the chance to return to the 49er for the first time since May 2012 at the 49er World Championship in Zadar, Croatia. The Sibello brothers memorably missed out on Olympic gold when they capsized in the infamous 2008 demolition derby Qingdao medal race.

    "It is interesting to be back but the obvious thing is I am enjoying it a lot. I have nothing to prove here just to have some fun and hopefully to make it into the gold fleet with the best guys. There are so many new guys sailing so well. It is good to be racing and keep training." Pietro Sibello commented. "It was such a pleasant story with my brother and the Olympic medal is still missing but I think we can be proud of how we were on the water and ashore. It was a good life."

    In the Nacra 17 the Italian world championship bronze medallists Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti dropped to second behind world champion Ben Saxton sailing with Nicola Boniface. Like many others the Italian duo have been winter training in comparitive isolation, with a group in Cagliari, Sardinia, and could not race in Miami because they only have the one boat. Tita recalled today, " Actually there was big waves we prefer flat water but are overall we are still happy to be fast downwind. We are here to see how our winter preparations worked. We had a long winter training in Cagliari and did not sail in Miami because we only have the one boat. There were many other teams there from Belgium, Finland and Denmark. We are looking to the worlds and to qualify the nation and then go from there."

    Saxton and Boniface sailed a 1,1,2 to lead the Italian duo by two points. Their tally for the day was matched by Spanish veteran Fernando Echavarri and Tara Pacheco from whom Saxton and Katie Dabson snatched the 2017 world title on the last run of the last race in La Grande Motte last September. Boniface is subbing in for injured Dabson for this regatta.

    A crew pool rotation system seems to be bringing success so far for the Dutch girls in the FX skiff fleet. Although Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz sailed together from 2014 until the Rio Games where they finished seventh. After that they went their separate ways when they both elected to study. The Netherlands system has their girls sail with each other on a rotation system to find the best combination.

    And so Bekkering and Duetz only teamed up together a couple of weeks ago but the old magic is sparking for them again and they have opened a nine points margin over Denmark's Ida Marie Baad Nielsen and Marie Thusgaard Olsen. Bekkering, who won here in 2016 explained,

    "It was a real fun day for us. It was tricky to start with because it was choppy then the wind died and it was hard to go fast. We did a good job of getting into the pressure first."

    "We teamed up in 2014 and sailed until the Games. Then the whole Dutch squad system comes in and we have nine girls and all mix up sail with one another. I got back in the boat last April and Annette in September. Then we kept swapping. A month ago we were asked to express our preferences and they work out the matches. So we have been back together for two weeks. We have done a lot of training - just not together - in Vilamoura in Portugal and one and a half months here. We have all done a lot of sailing and you see the group is strong. As a partnership we back each other and the decisions come naturally."

    After four races for the Laser and Laser Radials, 19 year old Australian Finn Alexander, the 2016 Youth World Champion is still holding on to a one point margin ahead of Kiwi silver medallist Sam Meech while Greece's Vasileia Karachaliou holds the Radial overall lead. The Netherlands' double Olympic medallist Marit Bouwmeester has moved up to third, sharing the same points tally as second placed Maud Jayet of Switzerland. Just as the Youth World Champion in the Laser is having his time in the sun at the top of the Laser fleet so Israel's Yoav Cohen, who won the board Youth World title in Sanya, China in December tops the RS:X Men's leaderboard. Briton Bryony Shaw has won two races in the RS:X and lies third behind China's Pei Na.

    Full results @
    " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella" Photo Gallery

  • #2
    Palma Pumps Up the Breeze For Finals

    Bang on cue Mallorca's Bay of Palma fired up the best breeze yet of the 49 Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar as the Finals phase started for most of the ten Olympic classes. In warm spring sunshine the breeze puffed to 18 kts at times to present a new, more physical challenge.
    Only Australia's Mat Belcher and Will Ryan in the Men's 470 and their female counterparts France's Camille Lecointre sailing with Aloise Lecointre sailed the perfect day, both crews unbeaten in the breeze today.

    The full-to-capacity fleet of Lasers and Radials revered across their briskest day of racing yet as the breeze picked up to 15-17kts at times with sharp, steep waves typical of the Bay of Palma.
    As the level stepped up into the first of the Finals races the Netherlands' double Olympic medallist Marit Bouwmeester, current world champion, posted the best two race tally for the day, winning the first contest and finishing fourth in the second. She lies two points clear of Danish rival Anne-Marie Rindom, 2016 Olympic bronze medallist and 2015 world champion.
    "It was windier today and it took some time to settle into one direction. It was still tricky with everyone seeming to sail really fast." commented Bouwmeester, "This is only my fourth event since Rio and I feel like I am still getting into it but I'm really enjoying it."

    The top of the Men's fleet has a certain Kiwi-Australian air to after their first two windy Finals races. New Zealand's silver medallist Sam Meech leads after a first and fourth ahead of Australia's Matthew Wearns, 2017 world championship bronze medallist. With Croatia's Tonci Stipanovic in third and Australia's Olympic champion Tom Burton now in fifth the quality of the Laser fleet is reflected in the fact that all three Rio medallists are in the top five.

    "It was shifty but there was not the pressure differences of the previous days and so you could not really get left behind. I was not good early in the first race and got back into it and the second one was OK." smiled Burton of his 4,2 day.

    This image and images above © Thomas Moya/ Sailing Energy

    Closest to perfection in the windier conditions were the Aussie 470 duo Mat Belcher and Will Ryan who stamped their authority on the strong fleet, opening the Finals series with two bullets. But French duo France's Camille Lecointre and Aloise Retornaz matched their male counterparts with two wins in the women's fleet. Belcher and Ryan now lead by 19 points, a margin exceeded only in the Finn fleet where Giles Scott looks set to repeat January's Sailing World Cup Miami dominance, already 20 points up after his nine points aggregate day going 3.6.
    Olympic gold medallist Scott was at one with the venue today, returning to the S'Arenal dock with a smile:

    "Good old Palma, delivering today. It was good. And what time is it? It's not even two, so in time for lunch! It was hard sailing and I think a lot of people were caught out with settings as well. The breeze came in so quickly before the first race I imagine a lot of people were caught out. I know I was. Within about five minutes it had jumped from 10 to 20 knots. But it was good."
    Confirming the widespread belief that winds are forecast to be light to tomorrow, he added: "Now I think tomorrow is going to be another tricky one. It’s going wishy-washy light sea breezes by all accounts. But we are on schedule."

    This image and images below © jesus renaldo/ Sailing Energy

    The Rio medallists are in the driving seats in the Women's 470 fleet too, albeit both of the top two Rio helms are now in settled in different partnerships. Leaders are France's Lecointre, bronze winning helm now with Retornaz who are just two points up on Britain's gold winning helm Hannah Mills now with Eilidh McIntyre.
    Mills explained, “It’s been a really tough week so far but it’s been good – we’ve had a real mix of conditions and we’ve learned a lot each day. We didn’t get our approach right on the first day and made a few mistakes but since then we’ve been a lot more proactive on our mindset, our priorities, our approach. So far so good, but there’s still two more days of fleet racing to go.”
    McIntyre, whose father Mike won gold in the Star in 1988, added: “Our results today look good on paper but we feel like we could have done better. That’s a nice place to be though, with plenty more learning to do.”

    As the pressure ratcheted up in the 49er fleet in the testing, bumpy conditions - the Men's Skiff is not at all easy in the short, steep and deep Palma chop - the best tally today was returned by Poland's Lukasz Przbytek and Pawel Kolodinski who moved up to second. After two races today Argentina's Lange brothers Klaus and Yago had taken up the overall lead but they popped in a 13th to drop to third overall.

    Yago Lange recalled, "We started strong in the breeze, seeing 18kts at the start, and we loved it. We felt confident having been training hard at home in Buenos Aires. The last one we made a mistale and this fleet is so tight that was it. Everyone is so pushing so hard. We made a bit of a comeback on the first downwind to get to 13th. That was a good day for us. We decided not to go to Miami to do a big boat regatta in Chile which was a great experience. We have put a lot of focus on ourselves, we have worked hard on our teamwork on our manoeuvres and then we had the Austrians over for ten days when we did some speed testing. It is all building up in a good way. The chop and waves here are interesting, you are all the time focused on not nosediving."

    Britain's world champions Dylan Fletcher-Scott and Stu Bithell sailed a discard 19th, fourth and first and are five points up at the head of the 49er leaderboard. The FX class continues to see the dominance of the Netherlands' Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz who are now 14pts ahead.

    New Zealand's Olivia Mackay and Micah had a close to perfect day with two wins in the Nacra 17 class and a second to move up to fourth, the biggest movers of the the day while Italy's Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti extended at the top. They are showing the benefits of their intensive windy winter in Cagliari, Sardinia now 14pts ahead of the pack. They have been driven through the winter by memories of the final race of the World Championships when they scuppered their title chances in a collision with Spain's Iker Martinez and Tara Pacheco.

    Britain's Emma Wilson had the best of days in the RS:X women's fleet, profiting from three hard weeks training here. Her second and first from the first Finals races move her to eighth overall. She said “I was quite relaxed and just went out to enjoy it and try to keep it simple. I had good speed so that helped a lot. Normally I like the lighter breeze but we have been out here for three weeks now and have had some pretty windy days so I think I’ve improved a lot in it. There’s a long way to go still so I’m just going to keep giving my best and enjoying it.”

    Due to the light winds forecast the first start Thursday is scheduled for midday.
    Full results @
    " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella" Photo Gallery


    • #3
      5 Classes Settled In Palma

      Overall victories in five of the ten Olympic classes at the 49th Trofeo Princesa Sofia Iberostar have been decided before Saturday's double points medal race is sailed. The strength and depth of competition at the biggest ever edition of Mallorca's showcase regatta and the variety of testing, different breezes have conspired to deliver a high scoring regatta in most classes.

      he Men's 470, 49er FX, Finn, Laser Radial and the Nacra 17 were all settled during the last day of Finals racing. The offshore and cross-offshore breeze may have reached 17 or 18kts at times but it was peppered by big shifts and changes in pressure which made it all too easy to make a 20-plus point bogey race score which terminated title hopes in several classes.

      all pics Jesus Renaldo & Tomás Moyá / Sailing Energy

      Great Scott
      The Men's 470 and Finn followed the expected form book. Britain's Olympic champion Giles Scott maybe matched his Sailing World Cup Miami performance in the sense he, again, won with a day to spare but the Bay of Palma this week offered a 73 boat fleet to the end, nearly three times the size of the world cup fleet. As if to prove just how difficult it was to read the shifty breeze Scott was caught out in the penultimate series race, his worst score of the week. His target consistency is to stay within a 5pts average per race and Scott accomplished that.

      Scott explained " I think I just concentrated on putting myself in positions where I could manage it with a bit less risk. It is tricky to know here when to take some leverage and try to make the big gain or when to try to be conservative. Either can land you in the crap. I have been able to play that game quite well this week. That is probably why I have not really had any real properly shiners of races but have been nicely consistent around that 5 mark which in these fleets of 70 odd boats is good. But this is such a different game to where ISAF is heading with 20-25 boat fleets."

      Experience is the key
      Mat Belcher and Will Ryan had a long day on the water, their second 470 Men's race seeming to take an age to be set off because the winds refused to cooperate and finally it was abandoned . But the Australians' tally of 29 pts leaves them 35pts clear ahead of Turkey's second placed Deniz and Atez Cinar. Belcher has been coming to the Trofeo Princesa Sofia for 16 years. This is the first major event he won, triumphing here with Malcolm Page in 2003.

      "To win here again 15 years after winning our first big regatta is pretty special." Belcher acknowledged.

      This is his fifth 470 class win at the Princesa Sofia after 03, 2012, 2013 and last time in 2016. Key to their win, Belcher says, is being fresh and relaxed after their break from sailing. Although he has been coming to Mallorca for more than 15 years he reveals that for the first time he will now take two or three days to explore and relax in the north of the island before heading to Hyeres.
      "It is a nice feeling to have it won already." Mat Belcher smiled, "We just wanted to see where we are at and so we felt we raced pretty consistently this week. We had good speed but the break has helped and we are really relaxed here. We had no expectation and no pressure. We just tried to enjoy the racing. We have so much experience in these boats and I have been here so much you know the conditions. That all helps a lot."

      If Belcher and Ryan's winning margin is comprehensive in the 470 their younger Australian compatriot Matthew Wearn fell just one point short. With a 19 points lead in the Laser he should have a relatively straightforward task to close out his first Sofia overall win.
      But in the Laser Radials Denmark's 2015 world champion Anne Marie Rindom has the job done, leaving 2016 world champion Alison Young and gold medallist Marit Bouwmeester with food for thought, more than 30 points adrift.

      Italians Atone
      A bitter disappointment in the final race of the 2017 world championships, when they erroneously hit Spain's Iker Martinez and Olga Maslivets at the first windward mark approach, robbed the young Italian Nacra 17 crew Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti of their chance to win the world title. Their error has preyed on their minds and has been just one spur to work even harder at their Cagliari, Sardinia training base over the winter. So too the arrival in the Sardinian capital of the Luna Rossa America's Cup program. The Italians have built an unassailable margin in the Nacra 17, often showing a downwind speed edge in the breeze.

      "The accident was a motivation because we were so close to winning and it could have been avoided." Tita commented, continuing, " We are so happy to win the first event of the season. We have been in Cagliari for the whole winter with good partners and that was really important for our programme. Here we were really quick, mostly downwind. We have always been fast downwind in the strong winds but for the light winds days we were in trouble, so we did well today."

      Double Dutch?
      The FX win for the Netherlands Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz was also conclusive. But with their Dutch counterparts Odile Van Aanhot and Marieke Jongens lying second there is evidence their squad rotation is working. After rotating each different viable combination of the nine FX squad sailors the two - who sailed together seventh in Rio - are back together again. This week they have been helped by Aaron McIntosh who coached thier double Olympic RS:X gold medallist Dorian Van Rijsselberge .
      "He has been a great help. He emphasizes to keep it simple and don't overcomplicate things. If you know it go for it." Bekkering highlighted, "We have improved a lot since we won here in 2016, for sure."

      Of the squad rotation policy Duetz adds, " It is very positive and you can see the level of the whole Dutch team has stepped up. We share our experience, everyone has different strengths but we are all pushing each other all the time in training. That is powerful. Every training is racing each other. We are friends on shore but as soon as we are all on the water we want to beat each other. But we all get all as friends. The nine of us are all different and that keeps it interesting. Now we are open to being different and doing our own things. "
      The Medal races start from 1100hrs local time Saturday

      Full results @
      " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella" Photo Gallery