The cross-country phase of the FEI European Eventing Championships, held in the Parc du Hautbois at the foot of the Haras du Pin castle, has confirmed the domination of Great Britain, who is on course to retain both the team and individual titles.
Although Germany lost its leader Michael Jung to a minor fall, it remains in contention for silver. However, they have seen a particularly strong French cross-country team hot on their heels. The verdict this Sundayafter the show jumping competition.
In the sound booth at the FEI European Eventing Championships at Le Haras du Pin (Orne), “God save the King” is already being played on the turntables. Saturday’s cross-country competition confirmed the dominance of Great Britain, already clearly in the lead after the dressage. Despite a few scares throughout the day and a few disappointments, the British considerably increased their lead. With a lead of almost thirty points over their pursuers, it’s hard to imagine them failing to retain the European crown they won two years ago in Switzerland.
In order to ensure maximum safety for riders and horses, the rain on Friday and during the night had forced course manager Pierre Le Goupil to make a number of changes to the initial course. The track was shortened to 4,730m (from 5,800m) with 24 obstacles (from 29) and 35 efforts (from 41) and a maximum time of 8’18” (from 10’11”). The decision was unanimously welcomed by all the riders. “I’d like to thank Pierre Le Goupil for this cross-country course,” insisted Richard Waygood, the British team leader at the press conference. All the decisions were taken at the right time and were the right ones. Despite the difficult conditions, the course respected the whole spirit of eventing. A very fine piece of work.»
On this course, although world champion Yasmin Ingham, with Banzai du Loir, lost all her illusions following a refusal at the exit of a combination, and now finds herself in 25th place, Great Britain was able to count on the solidity of Rosalind Canter and Lordships Graffalo, the only one of the 56 couples to return on time and without the slightest penalty point.
“My horse is a real machine, she enthused. You ask him to accelerate, he accelerates, you ask for control, he gives it, it’s an incredible feeling to run cross-country with him.” This performance put her in the lead of the overall individual rankings. With Kitty King and Vendredi Biats also performing very well (just 3.6 points off the pace) and now second, the British look well placed to leave Normandy with individual medals too, and perhaps even the finest. “We’ve got a good lead, that’s for sure, but in sport, and particularly in ours, anything can happen,” moderates British team leader Richard Waygood with a smile. The only major disappointment for the British team was the fall of Tom McEwen and JL Dublin (competing as individuals), who were third after the dressage but have now been eliminated.
Michael Jung falls and is eliminated
The big sensation of the day was the fall of double German Olympic champion Michael Jung. Individual leader before the cross-country and author of a very good start, the most successful rider in the discipline was victim of a bad landing by FischerChipmunk FRH at the entrance to the last ford. Propelled over his horse, he was unable to avoid ending up in the water. The incident was not serious but meant elimination for the rider. And for Germany, the loss of its best element.
Still in second place but down to the wire with only three couples in their team, the Mannschaft now has no room for error. Sandra Auffarth nevertheless confirmed that the air of Normandy, and in particular that of the Haras du Pin, gives her wings. Crowned on the same ground at the World Equestrian Games in 2014 (with Opgun Louvo), she put in another great performance with Viamant du Matz: “It’s a great feeling to be back here where I’ve had the greatest success of my life, she comments. With another Selle Français horse! My first half of the course wasn’t great, but I picked up the pace at the end. The horse is getting more and more experienced and he’s making things easy for me.”
The comeback of Les Bleus
Sixth after a disappointing dressage, the French regained some of their smiles and, above all, their hopes on Saturday. Starting as an opener, Stéphane Landois took advantage of the untouched terrain and the strong performance of Ride for Thaïs Chaman Dumontceau to put in a very fine performance. Only penalised by 8.8 time points, he made a superb comeback and moved to the foot of the podium. “It was hard to imagine finding myself in this position after the dressage,” he smiles. I had a lot of fun, and the horse was great in everything that was technical and difficult.”The other French riders in the team competition were equally satisfied, all returning without the slightest fault on the obstacles. “I tried to go fairly quickly and I was still on time at the 4th minute, but I gradually lost a few seconds,” analysed Nicolas Touzaint. On heavy ground like today, I’m lucky to have this extraordinary horse. The public were also fantastic (nearly 15,000 people). They were screaming at every obstacle and we felt carried along! There was real team pressure because we hadn’t had a great dressage test. We knew that if we wanted to get back on track, it had to be today. And with our performances, we’ll be in with a chance of a medal on Sunday.”
This Sunday at 9am, the horses still in the running will first have to pass the dreaded veterinary inspection, designed to check that after the hard work of the cross-country they are still fit to continue in the championship. The show jumping competition will start at 11.30am, in reverse order to the individual rankings. Time to brush up on the words of the British anthem.