Holy shit… what a race.
Day 7 saw the men’s distance event here at the 2014 ISA World Stand Up Paddle and Paddleboard Championship. After the women’s race gave us a glimpse of this unique and exotic course, I had the feeling we could be in for a classic showdown today. And the guys certainly didn’t disappoint…
With a deep field of talent lining up at 9am for the 18km grind around Lake Nicaragua, and with the wind blowing strong enough to become a major factor, conditions were set for an intense battle.
I listed around 14 or 15 guys that could potentially medal in this event and, sure enough, within the first few minutes the pace was solid as those top 10-15 guys jockeyed for a good position in the inevitable draft train.
Fernando Stalla went hard off the line, followed by Slater, Eric and Casper. There was a big, wide pack fighting for a spot, but by the 1 km mark the train settled down and paddlers started falling into line.
Fernando continued to lead for another few minutes before the American duo took over. With two guys representing each nation there was a chance for the national teams to work together today. And that’s exactly what happened as the USA set the early pace, with Chuck Glynn and Slater Trout taking turns on the front of the train.
Australia, South Africa and Mexico all had two guys in the lead pack as well, however it was the French who looked strongest.
In my opinion France entered this race with the best 1-2 combo out of anyone. I actually tipped them to get the gold and silver. Eric Terrien is renowned for his performances in these kinda races, while Titouan Puyo (Ti2!) is the world’s #1 dark horse. They didn’t have it all their own way early, but within the first 10-20 minutes were starting to make moves down the outside of the lead pack to try and take over control of the race. They clearly had a game plan.
The pace was high enough for the top 14 guys to break free from the rest of the field after 1 or 2 kilometres. A small chase group of 5, led by Belar Diaz and his Spanish teammate Pepe Oltra, were doing their best to close the gap, but USA and France were setting a pace that made any comeback into the stiff headwind virtually impossible.
So by the time we got out of the starting bay and headed around the corner, into the islands and towards buoy #2 (see the course map below), the top 14 were in a race of their own:
Eric Terrien and Titouan Puyo for France, Chuck Glynn and Slater Trout for Team USA, Toby Cracknell and Lincoln Dews for Australia, Fernando Stalla and Javier Jimenez for Mexico, Dylan Frick and Ethan Koopmans for South Africa, as well as the “solo” paddlers of Casper Steinfath (Denmark), Vinnicius Martins (Brazil), Federico Bennetolo (Italy) and Ollie Shilston (UK).
From there it looked like it could be a long, slow grind through the islands, but just when things were looking settled it all went a bit crazy…
At the 3/4km mark of the course there’s a small break in islands where the main Lake (and its strong winds) are totally open to the paddlers (just before buoy #2). This gives paddlers a downwind/sidewind stretch of about 500 metres, which makes drafting difficult.
As they entered this spot, the lead train of 14 guys immediately started to splinter, with the French putting the hammer down in an attempt to break the group. Within seconds, Ti2, who is a downwind specialist from the island of New Caledonia, gapped the other leaders, with only his team mate Eric able to go with him.
By the time the lead group had gotten behind the protection of the small islands and out of the bumps, the French duo had a 5 or 6 board-length lead. It was up to the USA duo of Slater and Chuck, as well as Toby to make up the gap. Like a Tour de France peleton reeling in the early escapees along a flat stage, the group eventually caught back up to Eric and Ti2.
But that small little downwind section would prove crucial later on.
I talked to the French guys after the race and it was at that moment they realised they were stronger in the bumps than everybody else. So as the water flattened out, they weren’t too phased about being swallowed up into the bunch again. Eric and Titou knew they just had to bide their time in the flat and make sure they were in a good spot to attack on the main downwind leg between buoys #4 and #5.
So while the main guys grouped back together, that French burst had had a big impact on the back of the train. Dylan, Ethan, Federico and Ollie were dropped. That whittled the front train down to 10 contenders, with the USA and France sharing duties as paddlers weaved through the flat water section and past all the exotic jungle islands.
The guys in 11th-14th didn’t give up though and fought hard through the flat stretches to latch back onto the train. From my awesome view on the front of the camera boat, I could see Dylan and Ethan talking to each other about sharing the work and pushing hard to get back into the lead pack. The plan seemed to be working, with the two South Africans dropping Italy and Great Britain and quickly making ground on the leaders.
But just as the gap was narrowing, tragedy struck for South Africa…
Ethan put in a hard sprint to make one last push for the lead pack but apparently had too much power, snapping his Naish paddle clean in two. We were sitting just metres behind on the camera boat and as this was unfolding I was phoning in a live update to the commentary booth. I think I actually got a little caught up in the drama of the moment – apologies to webcast viewers if I was screaming at you…
At first I thought Ethan had stopped paddling to take an ill-timed water break, but then I saw him holding nothing but a shaft and his paddle blade floating right past our boat. With a look of disbelief and helplessness on his face, Ethan was out of the race in the most heartbreaking and frustrating fashion. That left Dylan flying the flag for Team South Africa. Perhaps spurred on by the frustration of Ethan’s misfortune, Dylan dug deep and caught the lead train within the next minute, increasing the front group to 11 paddlers.
For the next 10-15 minutes, through the jungle islands, the pace at the front started to slow as nobody wanted to do all the work at the front and tire themselves out.
Everybody knew the real race was going to begin at buoy #4, which would see a 2km downwind leg before a 1km headwind grind back to the finish. This slight drop in speed at the front allowed Federico from Italy and a fighting Ollie Shilston (who has hardly eaten all week due to a stomach bug and put in a very brave performance today) to latch back onto the lead pack just as they exited the island chain and headed out towards buoy #4.
Thirteen guys headed out in single file to the outer buoy, with the growing bumps slowly splintering the field and stretching out the column. Titouan Puyo was sitting in first place at this point, while Lincoln Dews was second.
As they rounded buoy #4, Ti2 took off like a rocket and immediately gapped the other dozen guys. Only Lincoln could stay within shouting distance of the Ti2, while Slater Trout rolled the dice and took a line way off to the inside in an attempt to outmaneuver the others to the distant buoy #5.
Toby, Chuck and Vinnicius were looking good while Eric had a slow start to the downwind leg and had to charge through field, a field that was fast spreading out as competitors looked left and right for any little bump they could find.
Finding the bumps best though was Ti2. The Frenchman was seemingly widening the gap on his rivals with every single stroke. Titouan enjoys some amazing downwind conditions back home in New Caledonia and was clearly relishing these conditions.
By the time they rounded buoy #5, Ti2 had a 100m gap, with Eric enjoying a strong few minutes to move into 2nd. Turning just behind Eric was young Lincoln, who was very impressive with how hard he fought to stay close the French. Vinni Martins from Brazil, who was having an amazing race, rounded the buoy sitting in the virtual copper position, while Slater, Toby and Javier were working together to try and get up into the medals.
Further back a few of the guys were struggling to keep up. Chuck Glynn, who looked so good early and was my tip for 4th, didn’t have the downwind speed. He also didn’t have a complete fin, after an earlier meeting with a submerged rock had thrown him off his board and taken a chunk.
Fernando Stalla hit the wall a little I think, perhaps his strong pace early in the race took its toll. Casper Steinfath ended up way further back than we all expected. The young Danish Viking literally trains in the ice and snow during the Euro winter, so it’s no surprise the extreme Nicaraguan heat had worn him down.
But back up the front it was all Ti2. The Starboard rider, who was literally unheard of the SUP world up until six months ago, powered away the upwind section to put a lock on the gold medal.
Giving it absolutely everything he had, the young guy (he turned 23 a few days ago) was putting on a very mature performance. As he approached the final turning can, buoy #6, Ti2 looked over his shoulder a few times to see how close his rivals were, but nobody could catch him this point.
The new superstar of the SUP racing world turned the can and paddled home to take the gold and glory. Titouan Puyo has officially shaken his dark horse status and announced himself to the world.
Congratulations to a fine young man on becoming the new ISA Distance World Champ.
One minute later there was a sprint to the line between Eric and Lincoln. Lincoln fought hard to catch the Frenchman upwind and had that little extra in reserve to pull away the final metres.
Coming home 4th and taking the copper medal was Vinnicius Martins of Brazil. Vinni’s effort was one of the performances of the day and highlights just how far and wide the elite world international SUP racing has spread.
Slater, Toby and Javier were strong all day and sprinted to the line, but couldn’t do enough move into the medals.
This was France’s race but it was also a great result for the Aussies, who looked slightly vulnerable the SUP divisions this year but who now have a clear lead the teams leaderboard heading into the final day thanks to Lincoln’s heroics.
Finishing 40 minutes after Titouan was Ethan Koopmans of South Africa. Ethan snapped his paddle at around the 10 kilometre mark and was instantly out of the race, but the young guy won plenty of fans by refusing to give in: Ethan paddled home prone, crossing the line with the two pieces of his paddle in his hand and a smile on his face. Ethan was devastated about what happened but he didn’t let it get him down at all. Great attitude.
In the prone men it was an exciting sprint to the line between Rhys Burrows of Australia and Sam Shergold from New Zealand. As they hit the beach together, the Aussie just had enough in the sprint to the line, while team mate Rory Chapman wasn’t too far behind and took the bronze. Unfortunately we couldn’t cover the prone guys much as our boat was focused on filming the lead SUP pack, but I was impressed with how the New Zealand youngster pushed the Aussie favourite all the way to the line.
Spain has also been a huge surprise this event, it looks like their prone guys and girl will actually lift them up into the overall team medals (top 4 teams) by tomorrow afternoon, which would put them ahead of a few very strong nations.
Oh and Australia has never lost a single prone race in the short history of the ISA Worlds… Just saying. 10 golds from 10 races.
What a day it was. I’m still tingling from getting to watch the fight up close and person. It was seriously entertaining and the course through the islands, which some people (myself included) had criticised when it was first announced, was magic.
I’m actually drained from just sitting in the sun on the lead boat and my sending non-stop text and phone updates to the commentary team back in the booth, so I can only imagine just how physically destroyed and dehydrated the actual paddlers are.
Congratulations again to Titouan Puyo. I jokingly nicknamed this guy “Superstar” when I met him at the start of the year, because he’s just the opposite: Quiet, humble and easy to get along with. Just so happens to be a phenomenal paddler as well.
Anyway if you got to see the live webcast today I hope you enjoyed it and I really hope we managed to relay just how good this race was. One of the best I’ve ever seen in person. The action from Nicaragua isn’t finished yet though: tomorrow sees the course race finals, with five more gold medals for grabs as well as the overall team trophy (which Australia has one hand on right now…).
See you tomorrow.
Scroll down past the pics for FULL RESULTS.
All photos copyright ISA/Gonzales/Tweddle
2014 ISA Worlds: Men’s Distance Race RESULTS
|10||Dylan Frick||South Africa||1:54:35|
|24||Rolando Herrera||Costa Rica||2:10:25|
|30||Erick Zamora||Costa Rica||2:19:07|
1st: Rhys Burrows (Australia)
2nd: Same Shergold (New Zealand)
3rd: Rory Chapman (Australia)
4th: Carlos Ruiz (Spain)
5th: Shane Scoggins (USA)
Click here for full prone results.