On the strength of yet another Tour event win at last weekend's Troia Portugal Match Cup, Sebastian COL and his French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge have closed to within only four points of current World Match Racing Tour leader and reigning World Champion Ian Williams (GBR) and his Team Pindar.
The series counts the highest-scoring five events plus scores from the Monsoon Cup towards this year's World Championship crown. Racing in Troia presented a variety of challenges, both from the skills of the 12-team field laden with America's Cup, Olympic, and World Championship talent, to the racing conditions, which varied from light to fresh breezes and strong tidal current. Despite this, the three French Match Racing Teams of Sébastien COL
, Mathieu RICHARD
, and Damien IEHL
sailed exceptionally well, with all three finishing among the top four finishers in the round robin to go on to the semi-finals.
RICHARD and COL finished this stage first and second, respectively, and by winning by mere centimetres in the final match of the round robin IEHL took fourth place from Paolo CIAN
(ITA) and Torvar MIRSKY
(AUS) on a three-way tiebreak.
In the semi-finals, RICHARD's choice of the only non-French team, Magnus HOLMBERG
(SWE) and his Victory Challenge crew, at first seemed to guarantee an all-French final, as RICHARD won the first two matches in the first-to-three point series. But against the ropes HOLMBERG and team battled back in the blustery conditions to win the next three and secure their place in the finals. COL's series against IEHL went a little easier, defeating his team mate 3-1 in their contest.
After a mid-afternoon delay to relocate the course area due to a large wind shift, the finals and petit-finals were reduced to a first-to-two point series, sailed now in roaring ebb tide on the Rio Sado. RICHARD and IEHL got each flight started with exciting close-in combat, the pair rarely separating much more than a few metres all around the course. RICHARD won this series 2-1, but not without a spirited fight from IEHL and his team.
Except for some close action in the pre-starts, the finals matches were comparatively calm, as HOLMBERG and COL usually went their separate ways off the start to find relief on opposite sides of the course area from the strong tide running against them. COL's control of the left seemed to pay off, as he came out of that side on each beat ahead of the Swedes, and once around the top mark there were few available options for the trailing team as the tide swiftly swept them downwind.
COL felt the semi-finals were tougher for him, saying, "We started the day with a lot of pressure on us, since we felt that any of us could win, so we didn't sail very well. But after beating Damien, we relaxed and started to really focus, and I think we sailed much better against Magnus in the finals."
The 25 points COL earned in Portugal, along with another 25 for his win at the Korea Match Cup, 20 for being runner-up in Denmark, 10 for his fifth-placed finish in St Moritz and 8 points earned for being sixth in Germany has put him within only four points of the top of the World Tour leaderboard.
While the Troia event was not the worst for Ian WILLIAMS
and his Team Pindar, their six points earned for seventh place did not advance them in points against the oncoming French when considering the available throw-out scores. And RICHARD's strong finishes in St Moritz (first), Portugal (third), Germany (third) and Sweden (fourth) have him lurking not far behind in third place and ready to make a play for the lead. RICHARD is a significant threat: besides being ranked #1 in the world by ISAF, he has not finished worse than fifth in any Tour event yet this year, and tussled with WILLIAMS for the lead last year leading right up to the final event in Malaysia.
So the stage is set for high drama at next week's penultimate Tour event at the King Edward VII Gold Cup in Bermuda, which was won by RICHARD last year. Out of a massive field of 24 entries, eight of the top ten teams on the World Tour leaderboard will be in attendance, with only HOLMBERG and CIAN sitting this one out.
World Match Racing Tour Leaderboard
(Top ten teams after Stage 7 of 9)
1. Ian WILLIAMS
(GBR), Team Pindar, 92 points
2. Sébastien COL
(FRA), French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge, 88
3. Mathieu RICHARD
(FRA), French Match Racing Team/ French Team Spirit, 77
4. Torvar MIRSKY
(AUS), Mirsky Racing Team, 53
5. Magnus HOLMBERG
(SWE), Victory Challenge, 51
6. Paolo CIAN
(ITA), Team Shosholoza, 43
7. Bjorn HANSEN
(SWE), Alandia Sailing Team, 40
8. Damien IEHL
(FRA), French Match Racing Team, 37
9. Mattias RAHM
(SWE), Stena Bulk Sailing Team, 34
10. Adam MINOPRIO
(NZL), Emirates Team New Zealand/Black Match Racing, 33
ISAF Match Racing World Championship microsite - www.sailing.org/matchworlds