Over 800 sailors across ten Olympic and two Paralympic events will sail at ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères from 22-27 April 2013.
After regattas in Melbourne, Australia, Miami, USA and Palma de Mallorca, Spain, ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères will bring the 2012-13 series to a close and will feature the world's top sailors.
ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères welcomes London 2012 Laser Radial gold medallist Lijia Xu (CHN) who returns to the fleet for the first time since her thrilling Medal Race victory at London 2012 where she sealed China's first ever Olympic sailing gold medal in a dinghy.
Xu, the 2012 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, won in Hyères in 2012 as her preparations for the Olympic Games ramped up. Her aim for 2013 is somewhat different than last, "I am having an easy year sailing after the Olympics, I still want to enjoy every second on the boat.
"I haven't sailed since the London Games, not even now. I will arrive in Hyères a week earlier to smooth my steering. As an easy year, my aim is to keep my feeling with the sailboat. So the physical and technical preparation will be kept to a minimum, to provide more time on my study and spending time with family or friends in order to make the most of my transition year."
The Chinese sailor won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Sailing Competition and was selective over her events initially after the 2008 Games, a path that she will follow again on the road to Rio, "I will focus more on the journey itself instead of the destination. Rio is part of my goal and I'd like to balance every aspect of my life, cherish every moment and appreciate everyone around me alongside the process towards my next goal."
Also stepping back into a Radial for the first time since London 2012 is Marit Bouwmeester (NED). Like Xu, the Olympic silver medallist has taken her time to get back into the boat and following a split from her coach of seven years Hyères will be a fresh start for the Dutch sailor.
Bouwmeester said, "I'm very grateful to Mark [Littlejohn] for what we have achieved. But I now see opportunities to the next step towards a more independent athlete. I want more control over my own campaign. I want a variety of experts from the Laser to see what works well with little wind, the conditions we can expect in Rio.
"My focus is on the ISAF Worlds in 2014 in Santander and optimum preparation for Rio 2016. I want some experts committed to Santander and from the 2014 Worlds to work with a permanent coach until the games in Rio."
Whilst the Olympic medallists may find the early going slow many of the fleet will bring some form into the regatta. Alison Young (GBR) dominated the Radial fleet in Palma to claim a well-deserved gold medal and with confidence high Young will be mixing it up at the front. Ireland's Annalise Murphy, Canada's Isabella Bertold, France's Amelie Riou and Croatia's Tina Mihelic will all be aiming for top finishes.
All of the World's top ten in the Laser Rankings will sail in the 119-boat fleet in Hyères including World #2 and ISAF Sailing World Cup Palma victor Andy Maloney (NZL). The Kiwi sailor had a perfect final day in Palma to overturn World #1 Tom Burton's (AUS) commanding lead after he was OCS in the final race. "It was a bit unfortunate for Tom Burton in the last race but that happens to all of us,"
Maloney said on the final day in Palma, "I'm always looking to win the event so I'll be aiming for another gold in Hyères."
World #3 Phillip Buhl (GER) enjoyed some good early form in Palma but faded on the penultimate day to miss out on the Medal Races, he will look to make amends in the South of France to defend the title he won last year.
To reflect lessons and sailor feedback from ISAF Sailing World Cup Palma modifications have been made to the scoring format in Hyères. The Qualifying Series for ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères has been shortened to two days. The first race of the Final Series shall be a non discardable carry forward race with points equal to a boat's final rank in the qualifying series. Three days of Final Series racing then culminates in the Medal Stage where the 49er and 49erFX will sail three Stadium Races and the remaining eight fleets will sail two Medal Races.
Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) will be the favourites to take gold in the 64-boat Men's 470 fleet following their third victory together in Palma and Belcher's 11th in a row. The pair were tested by a strong fleet in Palma but their consistency in the final series paid off as they took a convincing win. Palma medallists Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis (GRE) and Luke Patience and Joe Glanfield (GBR) will both sail in France as they look to halt the Australians winning streak.
Twenty nine crews will be gunning for gold in the Women's 470. Brazil's Fernanda OIiveira and Ana Barbachan enter the event with a perfect record in 2013 that includes victories at ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami and Palma. The Brazilians sit comfortably atop of the Women's 470 rankings ahead of Lara Vadlau and Jolanta Ogar (AUT), Xiaoli Wang and Xufeng Huang (CHN) and Tina Mrak and Veronika Macarol (SLO). The Austrian, Chinese and Slovenian crews will all sail in France to put pressure on the Brazilians.
Sailing together for the first time in Palma was Great Britain's Sophie Weguelin and Eilidh McIntyre. The British duo took silver and pushed the Brazilians all the way so confidence will be sky high for them ahead of the first race in Hyères.
A strong 76-boat Finn contingent will take to the water in Hyères and features all the gold medallists from the 2012-13 ISAF Sailing World Cup series. Melbourne victor Brendan Casey (AUS), Miami winner Caleb Paine (USA) and Palma gold medallist Giles Scott (GBR), who stepped back into the Finn in Palma after America's Cup commitments, will all sail at the final event of the series. Add London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Jonathan Lobert (FRA), several strong Brits and the experience of Pieter Jan Postma (NED) and Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) into the pot and it makes for a tasty week of competition.
There is also further action in the 49er, 49erFX, Nacra 17, Men's and Women's RS:X, 2.4mR and the Sonar.
Racing is scheduled to start at 11:00 local time on 22 April with the climax of racing on 27 April.
ISAF Sailing World Cup Website