France’s Axel Mazella and Russia’s Denis Taradin engaged in an absorbing battle full of drama on day two of the KiteFoil World Series Cagliari, being held on the Italian resort island of Sardinia.
With one victory each at the tour’s previous two stops, both Ozone riders traded bullets in the day’s five races, being fought out on the Gulf of Angels, off Cagliari’s Poetto beach, in onshore breezes that climbed to about 13kts.
No race better illustrated the intensity of the duels between the pair, than the day’s final, climactic race. Taradin’s better angle and speed upwind saw him lead around the weather mark on both laps of the windward-leeward course, only for Mazella to overhaul his rival on the downwind legs with his superior pace.
The intense pressure on Taradin, forced him into an error when he gybed too early on the final downwind leg, almost collapsing his kite as he struggled for power. It was a costly mistake that enabled the Frenchman to scythe past his rival to land another bullet.
“I was first to the top mark twice, but every time on the downwind he had the edge,” said Taradin. “I knew I had to gybe on that last leg to keep my advantage, but I went too early and was too shallow on the mark. Still, overall, it was a big improvement on the first day. I’m pretty happy and there are two more days to go.”
Taradin moved three places up the standings to second overall, while Mazella climbed to the top of the order, courtesy of three bullets, a second and third place, switching between his 15m and 19m kites between races.
The Frenchman, who leads the tour standings and is hunting a third International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) KiteFoil world title, conceded he had been in a battle royal with the Russian.
“It was quite a game with Denis Taradin,” Mazella said. “I had some really nice match racing with him. So, congratulations to him, because it was really nice from the start to the finish. But I managed to get three bullets and take the lead, so it was a really good day.”
The duo managed to leapfrog overnight leader, Britain’s Connor Bainbridge, who could not match his stellar performance of the opening day. He dropped to third place in the four-day regatta with its prize purse of €25,000.
Italy’s Riccardo Pianosi, 16, showed he is a force to be reckoned, with a raft of high-placed finishes that included two fourth spots against the world’s fastest kitefoil racers. His outing on home waters made up for a forgettable first day in the gusty and shifty conditions that hit 33kts.
“In these winds we had today, I’m really good,” the tall teenager said. “It was a great day and I’m super happy, especially in this place with the best guys in the world.”
France’s Poema Newland retains her overnight lead in the women’s fleet, which is racing with the men. But by her own admission, she was off the pace and saw countrywoman Lauriane Nolot close the gap on her, with assured racing in the lighter conditions.
“It was so much better today,” said Nolot. “I just love my 15m kite. In these conditions we had fun. It was shifty, so you had to make the right tactical decisions. That mainly meant going to the right, where there was a lift near the headland.”
Forty-two athletes – 29 men and 13 women from 19 countries and five continents – are battling in the third act at the World Series Cagliari, with the IKA KiteFoil world champions crowned at the close of the slated five stops.
For some of the young athletes from far-flung places, the globe-trotting tour is an unrivalled opportunity to hone skills and improve pace against the best in the world. The goal is bagging coveted qualifying spots for the Paris 2024 Games, when kiteboarding will make its Olympic debut.
None more so, than Jean de Falbaire. He hails from the African island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, but has spent this past summer training in Arcachon, France, and competing in international kitefoil competitions.
The 23-year-old has been lucky enough to become friends with the world’s best, reigning Formula Kite world champion, France’s Nico Parlier, and countryman Benoît Gomez, with whom he can train when they are not with their national team.
However, the journey has not been an easy one. The young athlete spent years couch-surfing and borrowing equipment to allow him to compete at events in Europe, enabling him to get the competition that does not exist in Mauritius.
A private-public initiative in Mauritius, Horizon Paris 2024, pinpointed 13 athletes most likely to win medals at the forthcoming Olympics. De Falbaire was one of the lucky ones chosen, providing him with the funds to travel and buy equipment.
“My real project is to qualify for the Olympic Games and bring home a medal for Mauritius,” he said. “I’m so lucky to be able to train and grow in Europe and I’m immensely grateful for the help I’ve received, especially from the French guys.”
“In Mauritius the sailing community is not as developed, because the structure is not there yet. I think I’m the first professional sailor, so to get sponsored is a big deal and I’m truly grateful. I hope I can give something back to inspire and help younger sailors in Mauritius.”