It’s week #4 of the Euro Tour and this weekend we’re in the awesome city of Bilbao, Spain for another big race: The Bilbao World SUP Challenge. The action wrapped up just moments ago and it was Zane Schweitzer and Angie Jackson who claiming the overall event titles.
This event attracted a pretty solid lineup of talent; I’d say there were around 15 paddlers competing who would be on the top level internationally. Set right near the iconic Guggenheim Museum, the event involved sprint racing on Saturday before a 13km cruise through the city on Sunday.
Here’s how it all went down.
[DAY 1] SATURDAY UPDATE: The Sprints
Today it was the short course sprints and although each race only takes 2-3 minutes, it was a looong day… (something about the Spanish and siestas). Fortunately summer in Europe means endless days and plenty of sunshine, because we didn’t get down to the men’s final until after 7pm local time.
Conserving their energy the best were Casper Steinfath and Angie Jackson, who paddled like machines and took out the sprint event in very impressive fashion.
Despite having several of the world’s best paddlers next to him on the start line, Casper seemed to have another gear during the final. The young Danish Viking came home ahead of a very impressive Paul Jackson, while Zane Schweitzer had to settle for third.
Jacko turned it on right when it mattered most – scraping through in the early rounds before stepping it up during the semis and the final. Zane was setting a mean pace during the early rounds and looked hungry for the win, but it was all Casper in the final.
After a close start, where none of the six guys got any real advantage, Casper took off at the first buoy and never looked back, paddling down the main straight with a four-board-length lead over Jacko and Zane. This short course provides very few opportunities to overtake, so if you’re not right near the front after the first buoy you’re not going to win.
Zane’s Starboard team mates, Leonard Nika and Titouan Puyo, rounded out the top five. In fact this was a very Starboard-dominated event: Seven of the twelve guys in the semis were on blue boards. But none of them could match Casper, who is in some fine form after having won the ISA Worlds course race in Nicaragua a month ago.
It was hard luck for Jake Jensen – the Aussie youngster was putting so much effort into the opening 50 metres of the men’s sprint final that he snapped his paddle clean in half.
The women’s racing showcased a smaller field but lacked none of the energy.
Angie Jackson was *very* impressive in the women’s sprints, winning all three races to make it a clean sweep on day one (the women’s format was slightly different to the men’s). The Fanatic team rider is looking super fit after an intense six months of training back home in Australia.
Her hard work is clearly paying off: Angie will be a genuine threat at every major race this year…
Claiming second in all three sprints was Germany’s Sonni Hönscheid, another super strong paddler that’s helping lead the way for the women’s side of the sport.
As we’ve come to expect, the women’s racing was more intense/feistier/emotional (take your pick of adjectives…) than the men’s, with a couple of protests and a few arguments involved.
[DAY 2] SUNDAY UPDATE: The Distance Race
Today was the 13km race up and down the main river here in Bilbao. The race started right in front of the epic Guggenheim Museum building, which I’m sure created plenty of nice photo opps. It also created an interesting start to the race, as the river is very wide at this point.
Within the first few hundred metres two elite groups had formed, with about half a dozen of the contenders in each pack.
Leonard Nika was setting a strong early pace but all the big names were right on his tail. This was clearly going to be a draft fest and a race of strategy, not necessarily all out power and speed.
By the first buoy, around the 2km mark, the top 12 guys had settled into a comfortable pack: Leo, Jake, Zane, Eric, Titou, Gaetene, Casper, Beau, Jacko, Roman, Dylan and Branis.
Gaetene tried to make a run for it down the outside a couple of times – this guy is an experienced river kayaker and knows how to read the streams – however it’s hard to gain any ground when you’ve got Zane, Jake, Leo and Titou pulling the main pack along.
It was interesting to watch just how close to the edge of the river these guys were going.
Interesting because the edge of this river means a solid concrete wall. Especially considering just how disorganised the draft train was (see the caption on the photo above).
Not too far back was the battle for the women’s race, with Angie Jackson overcoming a slow start to start gapping Sonni. At the first buoy it was only 30 metres but it slowly kept expanding. There are no rules about drafting in this race (men can wash ride women and vice versa) and the leading contenders female took full advantage of this (as did some of the guys…).
Eventually Sonni was dropped and had to paddle much of the race on her own, while Angie hung on a bit longer and used the tactics to secure an insurmountable lead. The Aussie eventually crossed the line around 30 seconds clear, adding to her dominant win in the sprints yesterday and making it a clean sweep of the entire event.
Angie has been training like a machine back home in Aus and the hard work is clearly paying off. Meanwhile Sonni looks stronger than just about any other woman in the sport, so I’d say these two ladies will be a genuine threat at every big event. Can’t wait to see their showdown at the Lost Mills in a couple of weeks, which will probably add the likes of Lina Augaitis and even Annabel Anderson to the mix.
Back to the men’s race: By the second half of the final lap, the lead pack had whittled down to eight guys. Titou, Zane, Jake, Eric, Casper, Leo, Gaetene and Jacko.
Titou, who’s much more comfortable in the bumps than the flat water, was making a strong push at the front along with his Starboard team mate Zane Schweitzer (this has been a Starboard dominated event – they had seven of their top guys here, which made the river run blue at times).
I had a perfect view of the whole last lap – sprinting along the side of the river at the same pace as the lead paddlers, then scurrying down the regular access stairs to get some cool pics and a front row view of the action.
With about 1km left in the race, the pace picked up and the front pack started splintering.
As the guys rounded one last final buoy for a 400m drag race to the line, it was Zane who made the strongest push. Jake Jensen and Titou tried to go with him, and in fact Jake was only half a board length behind at the finish line, but Zane simply had too much speed.
Zane’s win today, combined with his third place in the sprints, gave him the overall event title. It was quite an amazing performance: Not too long ago Zane was considered a SUP surfer who raced for fun. Then he started kicking ass in the sprint races and got a reputation as a short distance racer.
Now Zane is kicking ass in distance races, but not only that, he’s winning races that are held on dead flat water, miles away from his beloved open ocean.
My hats off to the young man, he really did put in an amazing performance this weekend. Oh and he flew in from Tahiti the night before the race, so all this was done with some serious jetlag…
Jake’s runner-up finish was a nice redemption after his heartbreak yesterday. Jake finished third overall (he was tied for points with Titou but won on a countback), while Casper did enough to hold onto second place overall.
There were good performances all around this weekend. Leonard Nika is flying the flag for a new generation of paddlers out of Italy, which is quickly becoming one of the main forces in Euro racing. Paul “Jacko” Jackson had a very solid weekend, peaking with a second place in yesterday’s sprints. Gaetene Sene was very impressive in today’s race – going it alone at times and still having enough in the tank to sprint home for fourth place.
Fun weekend. And also an interesting one – both on and off the water. No shortage of discussions about what’s happening in this bizarro sport of ours and where it’s headed in the near future. I’m sure it’ll all come out in the wash before too long. Never a dull moment in this sport!
But anyway paddletics aside, this Bilbao World SUP Challenge does seem like a really good event in a really fun city. Cool setup. Cool people. Nice food. Even better drinks. The endless European summer sun didn’t hurt either (the temperature hit 35’C / 95’F by mid afternoon).
The Bilbao World SUP Challenge is organised by the local B Waters crew along with the help of long-time French race director Didier Lafitte.
Time for some pintxos and patxaran…
2014 Bilbao World SUP Challenge RESULTS
MEN’S SPRINT FINAL
1st: Casper Steinfath
2nd: Paul Jackson
3rd: Zane Schweitzer
4th: Leonard Nika
5th: Titouan Puyo
6th: Jake Jensen
MEN’S CONSOLATION FINAL
7th: Beau O’Brian
8th: Gaetene Sene
9th: Eric Terrien
10th: Roman Frejo
11th: Dylan Frick
12th: Belar Diaz
1st: Angie Jackson (1st, 1st, 1st)
2nd: Sonni Hönscheid (2nd, 2nd, 2nd)
3rd: Olivia Piana
4th: Laura Quetglas
5th: Celine Guesdon
(Note: The elite guys had a knockout format, starting with 24 guys and progressing down to a six-man final. The women’s elite field was slightly smaller, so they went with a series of three sprints and used the combined results to decide final placings.)
LONG DISTANCE RACE
1. Zane Schweitzer
2. Jake Jensen
3. Titouan Puyo
4. Gaetene Sene
5. Leonard Nika
6. Casper Steinfath
7. Eric Terrien
8. Paul Jackson
9. Beau O’Brian
10. Dylan Frick
11. Roman Frejo
12. Branislav Sramek
1. Angie Jackson
2. Sonni Hönscheid
3. Celine Guesdon
4. Olivia Piana
5. Laura Quetglas
1st: Zane Schweitzer (3rd/1st)
2nd: Casper Steinfath (1st/6th)
3rd: Jake Jensen (6th/2nd)
4th: Titouan Puyo (5th/3rd)
5th: Leonard Nika (4th/5th)
6th: Paul Jackson (2nd/8th)
7th: Gaetene Sene (8th/4th)
8th: Eric Terrien (9th/7th)
8th: Beau O’Brian (7th/9th)
10th: Roman Frejo (10th/11th)
10th: Dylan Frick (11th/10th)
1st: Angie Jackson (1st/1st)
2nd: Sonni Hönscheid (2nd/2nd)
3rd: Celine Guesdon (4th/3rd) *
4th: Olivia Piana (3rd/4th) *
5th: Laura Quetglas
* Celine won the tie-breaker sprint
Finalised results coming soon