Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
With all the twists and turns of a Hollywood blockbuster, the GCL of Ramatuelle/Saint-Tropez went down to the wire with a magical victory for the dynamic father and son duo of Eric and Maikel van der Vleuten – their second win of the season.
The team showdown on the French Riviera also shook up the overall ranking with home city team St Tropez Pirates hooking enough points to take the lead at this pivotal point in the series as the circuit heads to the GCL Finals in New York from 27 – 29 September. The swashbuckling Pirates are now on 304 points and after a strong performance today the Shanghai Swans glide into 2nd place on 302 points. London Knights slipped down to third overall on 296 points after a weekend to forget and Madrid In Motion jump to fourth place on 290 points.
Tension held to the very last moment with Madrid in Motion triumphing with Wunschkind 19 and Beauville Z after the final rider to go – Valkenswaard United’s Alberto Zorzi – had two faults to drop the team to third today. Second went to the Shanghai Swans, after Peder Fredricson and Daniel Deusser put in a formidable performance to secure the only other double clear of the day.
Eric van der Vleuten spoke after the team’s win: “We’re very happy about this as it’s the second time we win here in the south of France. It’s the second time our owner Marta Ortega is with us so it’s a nice performance.” His son Maikel emphasised the importance of this strong result as the teams head to the final furlong in just two week’s time; “New York is the last leg of the season and with this victory we’ll move up the ranking, so it’s important we do well in New York to finish the season very well. All the riders are really looking forward to the [GC Prague] Playoffs as it was a wonderful event – but our goal is to go for it!”
The show ground only moments from the sparkling Mediterranean Sea was a magnet for a stylish crowd with spectators and guests enjoying the stunning Shopping Village with a veritable fashion parade along the colonnade to the main competition arena. The scene was set for a heady mix of top sport and entertainment with team tactics centre stage.
After a tough first round on Thursday, which saw many teams on high faults, Uliano Vezzani put together another technical track, testing the best in the world. His course showcased a delicate Dolce & Gabbana vertical, a formidable Longines double with an oxer coming out, a light to touch Athina Onassis Horse Show vertical, and a challenging GCL triple set down the long-side of the bustling grandstand which featured an oxer in before two light verticals. The final line required power at a wide Cavalleria Toscana oxer before total control as it was quickly followed by a delicate white wavy plank – the final fence which again claimed plenty of victims.
Here’s how the action unfolded…
Following their 22 faults on Thursday, the Giants mixed up their complete horse and rider line up. First to go Simon Delestre brought out his top horse Hermes Ryan, the experienced 14 year old gelding rocketing around the arena. But another fence dropped the Giants to 26 faults, with Mathilda Karlsson swapping in on Chopin VA. Another early pole would put the team on the back foot, before it started to unravel – Mathilda retiring and the team eliminated in consequence.
Another team to change up their players were the Monaco Aces, U25 rider Jos Verlooy opting to ride Igor for the second round of action in Ramatuelle/Saint-Tropez. They put in an impressive performance but agonisingly had the final wavy plank down – the team dropping to a total of 21. Julien Epaillard came off the bench in place of Laura Kraut today, and brought out his 11 year old mare Queeletta. But the GC oxer fell, as did the Cavalleria Toscana fence – the team would finish on a score of 29 overall.
Overall ranking leaders London Knights had everything to do maintain their ranking lead. With no changes to their line up, Ben Maher was first to go with his 9 year old mare Concona. Ben kept a flowing rhythm throughout the course, giving the horse as much time as possible to the fences, but the second part of the Longines double fell, two parts of the GCL triple and every fence thereafter leaving the team on 40. Olivier Philippaerts brought back H&M Legend of Love but there was drama after the Cavalleria Toscana pole fell before Olivier could approach it. The judges rang the bell to stop Olivier, who had to pull up with his grey mare. They restarted, but both the final fences fell, the team finishing on a score to forget of 48 overall.
Rene Lopez made a horse change to Twig du Veillon, but they were another victim of the GCL triple, and the troublesome wavy plank to add another 8 faults to their score of 16. Brother Carlos Lopez kept his ride of G&C Arrayan and they flew around the arena – leaving all the fences up to keep their total of 28 faults.
Another team to make no horse or rider changes were the Miami Celtics, the team fielding Jessica Springsteen first with RMF Zecilie. The 12 year old mare jumped her heart out for the American rider and they finished clear, keeping their score of 13 faults. U25 rider Harry Charles brought back ABC Quantum Cruise, but the first part of the GCL triple came down to put the team on a total of 17 overall.
First to go for the Eagles, Christian Kukuk piloted his formidable stallion Limonchello NT – the pair just collecting 1 time fault after their round on Thursday. They looked to be on song again, until they took the turn to the Longines Athina Onassis Horse Show vertical a touch too tight, the pair finishing on 4 faults. Ludger Beerbaum made a strategic horse change to ride Casello, his experienced 16 year old chestnut gelding. But the GC Prague Playoffs fence fell, the team would finish on 21 faults this weekend.
Following their foot-perfect clear on Thursday, Evelina Tovek and Winnetou de la Hamente Z looked determined to repeat their performance today as they set off. But the Longines Athina Onassis Horse Show vertical fell again, putting the team on 16 faults. Henrik von Eckermann came off the bench replacing Christian Ahlmann. He rode Best Boy 2, the 11 year old chestnut gelding – the pair attacking the course with clear focus. But the horse just left a leg behind coming out of the triple combination leaving the team on 20 faults.
Darragh Kenny made a tactical horse change, opting to ride his 9 year old gelding Classic Dream for the second round of action. They put in a flawless round to keep the Panthers on their overnight score of 12. There was heartache for Nayel Nassar and Lucifer V after the first fence fell – despite this they finished the rest of the challenging course with ease, the team closing with a score of 16.
The Shanghai Swans fielded star striker Peder Fredricson and Zacramento for the crucial second round. The 14 year old gelding took the course in his stride, Peder making it look effortless as they delivered the much needed clear for the team. Daniel Deusser kept his ride of Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z, the small but powerful chestnut stallion enthusiastic to the fences. They cruised around the track, first of the teams to finish double clear today and keeping the Swans on their tally of 9 faults. Only time would tell if it would be enough to see them rise up the results.
The Lions made no changes to their horse or rider line up this weekend, with Niels Bruynseels first in on Gancia de Muze. With team manager Jessica Kurten watching on, they took an extra stride to the triple combination to try keep all the fences up. Their plan worked, and they kept the team on their Thursday score of 9 faults. Marc Houtzager brought back Sterrehof’s Dante, the 11 year old mare clearing the fences with a flick of her tail. But the first part of the GCL triple fell, just 4 faults added to their score to put them on 13 overall.
New York Empire
Hans-Dieter Dreher came off the bench for the team, riding the 11 year old Prinz. But the Dolce & Gabbana fence fell before it all started to unravel for the pair, the duo collecting a total of 12 faults to put the team on total 20 overall. Scott Brash kept his ride of Hello Mr President, the feisty 10 year old bay gelding keen to take on the track. They delivered the clear, keeping the team on their tally of 20.
U25 rider Maurice Tebbel was first to go for the Stars, his debut appearance for the team this weekend. He piloted Don Diarado clear on Thursday, and kept the ride for today – the day horse leaping effortlessly over the fences. They delivered once again, keeping the team on their total of 8 faults. Abdel Saïd brought back Jumpy van de Hermitage, but the middle part of the GCL oxer fell, the team finishing this weekend on 12 faults.
Madrid in Motion
Father and son duo of Eric and Maikel van der Vleuten returned for the team today, with Eric first go on Wunschkind 19. They worked hard, but kept all the fences up, handing the baton to son Maikel and Beauville Z. They 9 year old horse responded beautifully to Maikel’s requests, Madrid in Motion securing the second double clear of the day and keeping the team on a score of 6 and guaranteed a podium this weekend.
St Tropez Pirates
On home turf, and with a chance to take over the GCL Ranking, the St Tropez Pirates had all the pressure on their shoulders today. First to go Olivier Robert kept his ride on Tempo de Paban, but they came a little deep to the GCL triple, the first oxer falling and putting the team on a score of 8 so far. Pieter Devos made a tactical horse change, bringing out Claire Z for today’s competition. They flew around the course, but the final element of the GCL triple came down, the team finishing on a total of 12 but crucially ahead of the London Knights.
With no changes to their horse or rider line up, Valkenswaard United fielded Marcus Ehning with his experienced chestnut gelding Pret a Tout first. They opted for a careful round, keeping perfect balance around the corners and finding the perfect stride to the fences. They produced a clear, loading the pressure onto the shoulders of teammate Alberto Zorzi. The Italian rider brought out the dark bay stallion Cinsey, but the GC Prague Playoffs plank fell, as did the water-tray lined vertical set by the in-gate. The team would finish on a score of 12 faults overall, slipping into third position.
The Championship now looks to the Finals in New York, from the 27th – 29th September.