The Spaniards are now back concentrating on the 49er after a break following their success in Athens, which has included a trip across the Southern Ocean on the Spanish Volvo Ocean Race entrant movistar.
'It's very different, but it's good to be back here,' commented FERNANDEZ, whilst waiting for the wind to kick in in Austria today. 'It's been almost three years not sailing a lot in 49ers and doing other things which have been very good indeed for us. But we are looking forward to coming back and doing a very good season, and we started well in Palma and Hyères.'
'Started well,' is an understatement. The Olympic Champions came fourth in their home regatta at the ISAF Grade 2 Princess Sofia Trophy, and then found their top gear a few weeks later in Hyères, winning the final three races, including a comeback Medal Race victory to secure gold at the ISAF Grade 1 Semaine Olympique Française. With the 49er Worlds on Lake Bourget in Aix-les-Bains, France this June, the Olympic skiff sailors will need to be at their best in the tricky, shifty conditions if they want to come away from this summer with success.
The Spanish pair took part in their first Medal Race in Palma and took victory in their second at Hyères. However, after the 49er class tested a number of different formats last season, they do not see too great a difference to the previous format, with FERNANDEZ saying, 'It's more or less the same. Last race, less boats, more points - it's more or less the same.'
For a lot of crews last week, Lake Neusiedl provided a very different set of conditions than they are accustomed to. The arrival of the world's top sailors this week brings a wealth of experience, which means MARTINEZ and FERNANDEZ have no worries about adjusting to the conditions on Lake Neusiedl. Commented MARTINEZ, 'It's quite different to change to sailing on the lakes, the wind is very shifty and there will be some different conditions, but we feel good.'
Last week the Australian team of Nathan OUTTERIDGE and Ben AUSTIN (AUS) impressed everyone on Lake Neusiedl, taking a string of bullets to win the qualifying series in the 49er at a canter. A three-time ISAF Youth Worlds gold medallist in the 420 and 29er, 20 year old OUTTERIDGE only recently moved to the 49er teaming up with AUSTIN in August last year. Like all the European crews in Austria, the Aussie team is an unknown to MARTINEZ and FERNANDEZ. FERNANDEZ admitted, 'We saw the results and were surprised. There were some good teams here, but I think that in the final races it is always a little bit different.' He went on to indicate the other three invited crews - Palma winners Pietro SIBELLO and Gianfranco SIBELLO (ITA), World Champions Rodin LUKA and Georgiy LEONCHUK (UKR) and home favourites Nico DELLE-KARTH and Nikolaus RESCH (AUT) - as potential rivals for the title, but added a cautious word about the Aussies, saying, 'We will see at what level they are sailing.'
With an Olympic gold medal, two World Championship titles and victories at the Europeans, Hyères and Spa also featuring on their resume, MARTINEZ and FERNANDEZ are certainly one of the most fancied crews in Austria this week. Any fears of rustiness after their spell away from the skiff were quickly dispelled in France, and now the next challenge on Lake Neusiedl awaits.
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