Over the weekend of 15/16 September a team of 12 juniors and 4 staff travelled down to Libourne to compete in the French National Championships.
Libourne is quite far south in France and close to Bordeaux the journey down involved an overnight ferry and long drive. The team arrived at the course mid Friday afternoon at the course and set up base. The course was a purpose built regatta lake, so the races were going to be lots of laps and portages. There was an initial fear that with so many paddlers racing at once the course would get choppy, but the course is well designed, and waves dissipated when they hit the banks. Even gusts of wind failed to create waves.
All of the athletes were able to paddle around the course and try out the portage. The portage was effectively the turn at one end of the course, well over 100m long plus the get out on pontoons.
Racing at the French Nationals is slightly different than in the UK. Juniors are split into 2 age categories, under 16 (cadet) and under 18 (junior). Although all of our team was allowed to race in the cadet category, the older juniors raced up against paddlers 2 year older than themselves. Our 4 paddlers racing in the cadet class, although correctly classed, were also racing paddlers up to 2 years older than themselves.
Racing started early Saturday afternoon in the full midday sun, with the temperature was around 28C and rising! First off for us were the boys’ junior cadets where we were represented by Ben Cabrera (FOY) and Luca Ferri (ELM) racing K2. This was a race of 15 boats which consisted of 3 long laps and 1 short lap (about 14.5K) with a portage on each of the long laps. The boys had a good start and established themselves towards the front of the race eventually finishing 3rd in 1:05:39 around 2 minutes down on the winners.
Next off were the girls’ junior cadets where we were represented by Klara Jepson (FOX) and Zara Bowers (ELM), this was a much smaller race of only 4 boats, although the start was combined with the mixed cadet class meaning that there was a race to be had. The girls dominated their race and established a lead early on which they improved upon with each lap. The girls finished in 1st place in a time of 1:10:39 nearly 6 minutes ahead of the 2nd placed boat and almost fast enough to have taken 3rd place in the mixed class.
The older athletes races started at 4pm in the real heat of the day the temperature was now up to 30C the the races were longer at 19K with 4 long laps and 1 short lap. We were racing 2 boats in each of the girls’ and boys’ races. In the boys race we were represented by Ethan Wilkinson (WEY) / Perry Lewis (WEY), and Zac Tarver (ELM) / Xavier Hinves (SOU). Again, our boats got off to a good start staying out of any trouble, the starts were getting faster and with the senior women K1 and senior men C1 starting only a few minutes in front it was only a matter of time before these races came together and created some interesting portage situations. The racing went well with the boys managing to stay out of trouble even though the French crews weren’t happy at times. Zac and Xavier managed to damage their boat on an early portage putting a 12 inch gash through the outer hull, but it didn’t slow them down. Although the boys tried hard they just couldn’t get with the top boats, which we were told had been at the Euros earlier in the year, and finished a few minutes down on the winners. The winning time was 1:19:09, with our boats coming in, in a very creditable 4th and 5th, Ethan and Perry 4th on 1:22:25 and Zac and Xavier 5th on 1:19:31.
The older girls raced next and we were represented by Katie Brookes (WOR) / Katy Walker (NOR) and Flossie Ball / Rebecca Swift (WEY), they were completing the same course as the boys, but racing further than they would normally in the UK. The start was combined with the mixed class and the C2 class giving about 20 boats in total. The start was clean, and the boats established small groups early on. The girls raced well getting ahead of all the C2s and finished in 2nd and 3rd place. The winning time was 1:32:45 with Flossie and Rebecca coming 2nd in 1:33:12 and Katie and Katy coming 3rd in a time of 1:35:22.
Sundays racing was all K1s for us and starting earlier in the morning. From being 32C on Saturday afternoon, the mornings racing was at a cool 15 C or 16C, so the debate was how much to wear.
The K1 races were well attended with over 31 starters in the boys Cadet class, Ben and Luca managed good clean starts and raced a good clean race with no major upsets, eventually finishing 6th and 4th respectively. The winner finished in a time of 1:06:56 with Luca in 1:08:15 and Ben in 1:09:49, good results considering that the winners were 2 years older.
The girl Cadets (Klara and Zara) although with a bigger field started with the Cadet C1 boys. The starts were a single line in no order so the C1s were mixed in with the girls, which can sometimes be a little unsettling. The girls had a good start and soon Klara established herself at the front of the race paddling round on her own. She remained in the front of the race until the last long lap where a long swim dropped her down the field. Once back in her boat she clawed her way back up the field managing to finish in 3rd place. Zara finished her race in a good 7th. The winning time was 1:16:30, with Klara 3rd in 1:18:17 and Zara 7th in 1:20:52.
The older athletes raced in the early afternoon in hotter temperatures than Saturday. There was no shade at all on the course, and even for most of the spectator too! The boys started first in a field of 36 boats including French paddlers from the Euros and Worlds teams. Again, the boys started well keeping out of any trouble, but not being welcomed into any of the French groups. As the race settled down the boys into groups, and were having to fight for their places, but the main comments about the French paddlers were they were short of tactics. All the boys managed the course very well and finished in the following times and places. The winner finished in a time of 1:24:36, Zac came 7th in 1:27:41, Xavier 13th in 1:29:40, Perry 1:29:53, and Ethan in 1:32:11. All very good and credible races and times against generally older paddlers and some full junior internationals.
The junior girls raced last and again their start was mixed with the C1 junior men, a start of some 35 boats. The start was clean and there were no upsets, the eventual winner managed to get away from the group and lead most of the race around the course. Flossie, Katie and Rebecca had good races finishing 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively, with Katy finishing a few minutes later suffering from a sore shoulder (and a swim I think). The winning time of the race was 1:38:59 with Flossie 2nd in 1:39:36, Katie 3rd in 1:39:50, Rebecca 4th in 1:40:18 and Katy 13th in 1:48:18, all excellent results.
After prize giving the team returned to the buses for the long journey home. Due to the distances and times of ferries it was not possible to return via the Brittany ports, so we came back the long way via Eurotunnel.
All of the athletes behaved in an excellent manner and raced very well. They are a credit to their parents and clubs.
My thanks to the staff of Colette Johnson, Teresa Gregory and Brian Greenham for helping me and making this trip run smoothly, and for Graham Warland with help returning the bus and trailer.
David Sackman Team Leader