2024 Formula Kite European Championships – Mar Menor opens the Olympic season – Sail World

by Andy Rice 18 Mar 10:35 PDT
18-24 March 2024

Mar Menor in Spain is a kitefoiler’s flat-water paradise – 2024 Formula Kite European Championships © IKA Media / Robert Hajduk

The 2024 Formula Kite European Championship is about to get under way in Los Alcazares, Mar Menor, in Spain. Taking place from 18 to 24 March this is the first major event of the kitefoil racing season.

With just a few months to the Olympic Games the tension is really ratcheting up as riders are gunning for precious few remaining qualifying places for Paris 2024. There are 137 athletes from 39 nations including some lesser-seen sailing nations like Antigua, Dominican Republic, India, Latvia, Tonga and Vanuatu.

The first day of racing will be a moment of revelation for the riders who have been training over the winter at various venues including Fuerteventura, Egypt and Australia. Whose training block has been the most effective? This will be the regatta where they find out who has made the biggest gains.

Covering an area of 170 square kilometres, Mar Menor is the largest salt-water lagoon in Europe and is set to offer idyllic flat-water conditions for these high-speed hover boards which can reach peak speeds exceeding 40 knots. Further north along Spain’s Mediterranean coast in Barcelona, America’s Cup teams are gearing up for foiling action on their high-speed, multimillion dollar 75ft racing machines.

Using the same principles of harnessing the wind and hydrofoiling above the water, the Formula Kite riders will be enjoying speeds close to America’s Cup levels, but doing it on a small carbon board just 1.5m long and weighing just a few kilos.

The racing format is fast and furious, with the athletes foiling above the surface at high speed in short races that last 12 minutes, and even shorter finals of just 6 minutes.

The Women

Ellie Aldridge’s victory at last year’s Europeans on home waters in Portsmouth was one of the reasons why she has been selected to represent Great Britain this summer at Paris 2024. Winner of the two previous European titles and the reigning World Champion, Lauriane Nolot, will be back to see if she can grab the title back off Aldridge. The French rider has still to be selected for the Games against a hot squad of talent including Poema Newland.

This is a selection trials event for many of the athletes including the Israeli riders. It will be interesting to see how that additional pressure works for competitors such as Maya Ashkenazi and Gal Zukerman. Currently Ashkenazi holds a small points advantage over Zukerman.

The Chinese have been improving rapidly over the past few years and will be threatening for the European title. The strongest challenge is likely to come from Jingyue Chen and Wan Li.

Others to watch include Spain’s Gisela Pulido, Germany’s Leonie Meyer, and the all-time best in women’s kiting, Daniela Moroz from the USA.

The Men

Last year’s Europeans were a break-out moment for Italy’s teenage sensation Riccardo Pianosi when he took out the title in Portsmouth on England’s south coast. That was in the absence of Singapore’s Max Maeder, however, as the 17-year-old was competing at the Asian Games in China. Winner of the European title two years ago in Greece, Maeder is back and keen to take back the title.

Standing in Maeder’s way are a whole host of contenders including other Italians like Lorenzo Boschetti, Denis Taradin of Cyprus as well as Maeder’s regular training partner, Croatian Martin Dolenc.

France is fielding a strong squad of 14 riders including proven performers like Maxime Nocher, Nico Parlier, Benoit Gomez and Theo de Ramecourt. Based on 2023 season form Axel Mazella would be considered the leading contender for French Olympic selection but he is recovering from a knee injury so could struggle to hit his usual top form at the Europeans.

After finishing fourth at last year’s World Championship, Valentin Bontus from Austria has been working hard over the winter to cement that success and to prove that he deserves a regular seat at the top table. Connor Bainbridge is the leading British rider who is working hard to ensure he earns an Olympic spot for the nation at the ‘Last Chance’ Regatta in the south of France at the end of April. The Europeans will provide an important chance for Bainbridge to prove his winter training is taking him in the right direction.

Aside from Maeder there are a number of non-Europeans looking to take advantage of top international competition including Antigua’s Tiger Tyson and Jonathan Joseph Weston from Thailand. China’s Qibin Huang and Haoran Zhang are both serious contenders for the front of the fleet.

Racing begins on 19 March, with the riders splitting into qualifying fleets for the first three days of the six-day competition. The final two days (Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th) will be livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook.

More info at www.kiteclasses.org

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