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1 May 2014, 12:08 pm
Finns Gather In La Rochelle For European Challenge
2013 European Championship in Warnemunde, Germany
2013 European Championship in Warnemunde, Germany

Finn Senior and Junior European Championships
La Rochelle, France

The Finn Senior and Junior European Championship gets under way this weekend in La Rochelle, France.
To date there are 95 entries from 31 nations and with a few exceptions virtually all of the top sailors are entered for what will be the classes third senior championship at the Atlantic coast venue.

The fleet is as deep as ever and includes 21 former Olympians, six former European champions and three former world champions, including the current European Champion Vasilij Zbogar (SLO), and the current World Champion Jorge Zarif (BRA).

While Zbogar is expected to be in contention, he will have a very hard time defending the title he won last year in Warnemünde, Germany. He placed sixth in the ISAF Sailing World Cup Palma this year, but has otherwise been training at his Valencia base.

In contrast Zarif has done all the major events this year, with a bronze at the ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami, followed by 19th in Palma, and then a more encouraging ninth in Hyères, including a win in the medal race. While his world championship win last year was a surprise to many, he has since shown he can compete with the best and can never be ruled out.

The British, French and Italians are fielding the largest teams at ten a piece, but without doubt the British have the strongest team in La Rochelle, with four sailors capable of winning races as well as the championship itself. Both Edward Wright (GBR) and Giles Scott (GBR) have already taken the title in previous years while Andrew Mills (GBR) and Mark Andrews (GBR) win races at this level on a regular basis and are quite capable of putting together a title winning series.

Peter McCoy (GBR) will be looking to defend his Junior European title after the class raised the age limit, though to do that he will have to beat the current junior and senior World Champion, Zarif as well as 15 other juniors.

For the French team, Thomas Le Breton (FRA) and Jonathan Lobert (FRA) will be making a strong challenge. So far this year Le Breton has had the upper hand over Lobert, who won bronze in London 2012, so Lobert will be looking to even the score. Both picked up a medal at the ISAF Sailing World Cup Palma, while Le Breton added a bronze in Hyères last week.

If performance at Hyères was anything to go by then Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) will be a force to contend with. Overcoming a large nemesis last week with his first ever major win in the class, he will be brimming with confidence and could well be the surprise package of the week. Likewise, the new World #1, Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO), who took the silver in Hyères, will be very confident going into the championship, he has previously won the Europeans in 2009 and 2010

Of the other non-European countries competing, of which there are seven, New Zealand, is fielding a strong team which includes Josh Junior (NZL) and Andrew Murdoch (NZL). Junior finished strongly in Hyères to place fourth, following a top 10 finish at last year's world championship. Murdoch picked up the European Bronze last year.

Other names to watch during the week include: the 2012 European Champion Ioannis Mitakis (GRE), Deniss Karpak (EST), Tapio Nirkko (FIN), Zsombor Berecz (HUN), Piotr Kula (POL) and Gasper Vincec (SLO). The Swedish battle between Björn Allansson (SWE) and Max Salminen (SWE) will also be of great interest.

Coming so soon after the end of the World Cup in Hyères, most sailors travelled straight to La Rochelle, so have been training in earnest this week in preparation. For many this will be the last true test before the ISAF Worlds in Santander in September when the first nation places for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio will be decided.

10 races are scheduled from 5 - 9 May. The medal race for the top 10 and the final race for the rest will be on 10 May.

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