The powerful Tramontana winds continued to blow for another day as competitors prepared for the ninth round of competition at The Mondial du Vent in Leucate. Going into elimination 9, Matt PRITCHARD lay just 5 points behind event leader Antoine ALBEAU.
To add to the pressure, the 2 Super X supremos would meet each other in the first round. The wind, now blowing over 40 knots at times, definitely suited the 3 front runners, with Robby SWIFT (JP, Neil Pryde) consistently planning through his spocks - usually one handed.
Once the competitors had been thinned out to the top 16 it was howling. Nicholas AKGAZCIYAN (AHD, Neil Pryde) recovered well to finish first after a bad start in the losers final, closely ahead of Cyril MOUSSILMANI (Fanatic) and Thomas TRAVERSA (North). Ricardo CAMPELLO (JP, Neil Pryde) had to settle for fourth behind Traversa having not managed to squeeze into the top 8.
The final was set for drama with Pritchard and Albeau lined up side by side on the start line and Swift at the opposite end of the beach, all three with fire in their eyes; Albeau looking to consolidate his lead and the other two hoping to topple him from the throne. The conditions by now were insane and it was as much a battle for survival as for victory. Pritchard and Albeau went neck and neck all the way to the first jumps, where France's finest edged ahead of the American dreamer. With clear wind and water to his advantage, Albeau then dropped the hammer, pulling further and further ahead of the pack. Swift went down hard along with Pieter BIJL (Fanatic, Neil Pryde) at the first inside duck gybe as they were hit by a monstrous gust, but due to incredible control and exceptional planning manoeuvres, the 20 year old from Great Britain managed to catch up and pass Pritchard to take second, Bijl also recovering to fourth.
After his morning victory, Albeau was looking safer than ever in the number one slot, but with Pritchard and Swift still in range of the top the pressure was on Antoine to keep his cool. Obviously the heat got to him as he repeated his submarine move from earlier in the contest, nose-dived over the third jump, flew straight over the handlebars and out of round 10. All Pritchard and Swift needed was to stay in the top few slots to have a shot at victory.
Baker seemed to have found form in the now stronger winds as had Peter VOLWATER (Arrows), both winning their respective semi finals. Campello and Swift also exhibited exceptional control, executing planing spocks and forward loops at warp speed to take them through to the final.
As the last eight sprang out of the starting blocks, Baker went clear ahead, hardly getting his feet wet, Swift and Pritchard remaining embroiled in the pack behind. By the second duck gybe, Pritchard was only one spot from last and looked as though he may have dashed his hopes of victory, but one by one the sailors in front of him fell by the wayside, one crashing at the high jump, three others going down on the last duck gybe to leave Baker the only man still standing ahead of Pritchard and Swift.
With a second place in round ten, Pritchard has kept his hopes alive of stealing first from Albeau's weakening grip. Albeau however, is a formidable opponent for any sailor, so there is still much for Pritchard to achieve in order to realize his dreams of victory.
Top Five After Ten Rounds and Two Discards
1. F-192 Antoine Albeau (AHD, Neil Pryde)
2. US-10 Matt Pritchard (Gaastra)
3. K-89 Robby Swift (JP, Neil Pryde)
4. H-24 Peter Volwater
5. K-66 Nik baker (Mistral North)