Albeau wins (pic: PWA/Souville)

The 2004 Nestea PWA Almanarre Hyeres World Cup - Day 2

Stormy skies and light rain were the order of the day as the sun rose over the hills surrounding L'Almanarre, Hyeres, here in the South of France this morning. More importantly, the wind had increased to a steady 9-12 knot breeze making conditions perfect for Formula Racing.

With the course set in the early morning light, the red flag for the first race went up at ten o'clock sharp. It was clear from the start that the gloves were off in the men's fleet and, after one false start, Steve Allen (Fanatic, Neil Pryde) crept in to the lead, barely separated from his nemesis at this event, Antoine Albeau (AHD, Neil Pryde). The two racing legends - both currently in equal first in the PWA race rankings - were taking no prisoners and it was clear that neither would be happy to settle for anything less than first place.

Allen held the lead for the first lap but on the second upwind leg, Albeau seized his opportunity, slipping past the Aussie to move into prime position. Pieter Bijl (Fanatic, Neil Pryde), Andrea Cucchi (Starboard) and Ben Van Der Steen (Neil Pryde) were all in vengeful pursuit but the race for first was simply between 2 sailors. Albeau and Allen traded windshifts and gusts all the way downwind before Allen retook the lead just before the start of the final upwind leg, eventually leading all the way to the finish and taking the early advantage over Albeau. Wojtek Brzozowski (Starboard, Neil Pryde) came from nowhere to finish third ahead of Cucchi and a particularly fast Dan Ellis (Fanatic, North Sails). Championship contenders Ross Williams (Starboard, Gaastra) and Kevin Pritchard (Starboard, Gaastra) finished well out of contention in ninth and eleventh respectively.

The women's opening race saw a dominant performance from Dorota Staszewska (Starboard, Gaastra) who has failed to find form so far this year on tour. Staszewska led from the start, holding off all challenges from Lucy Horwood (Fanatic, North Sails) who sailed a very solid race in second position, but failed to challenge seriously for Staszewska's lead. Current PWA racing number 1, Alison Shreeve (F2) held on to third, but was well out of contention in the gusty winds.

Straight into race number 2 and it was all change for the men on lap 1. This time it was Pritchard who took the early lead ahead of Bijl and Cucchi followed by Gonzalo Costa Hoevel (F2, Neil Pryde) and speed junkie Finian Maynard (F2, Naish). Albeau and Allen were conspicuous by their absence from the front runners.

By lap 2 though, Albeau had regrouped and was back on the attack, closing to second behind Pritchard at the second upwind and, with Allen nowhere to be seen in the top ten, this could only be good for the Frenchman. Almost inevitably, Pritchard succumbed to the relentless pressure from behind and Albeau took the lead, eventually winning ahead of Pritchard, with a surprisingly on form Maynard in third, Cucchi fourth and Micah Buzianis (F2, North Sails) back in the familiar surroundings of the top five.

Staszewska was obviously in no mood for compromise and led, once again, from the start. Horwood set about the now familiar task of chasing down the Polish number 1 but, with her attention so firmly fixed on the front runner, did not see the challenge from Verena Fauster (F2, Gaastra) hot on her heels in third. Staszewska continued round the course sailing flawlessly to keep the door firmly closed on Horwood who herself was fully engaged in a battle with Fauster. The Italian eventually got the better of the UK's premier girl and crossed the line second behind Staszewska.

After a short break for lunch, it was time for Race 3 on a new, square course. Albeau once again shot off the line with great speed, closely pursued by Allen. Brzozowski however was starting to tune into the conditions and by the time the fleet had made the journey back downwind he had overtaken Allen who was now being pushed by Costa Hoevel and Van Der Steen.

The remaining lap only served to extend Albeau's lead and by the finish he was some distance ahead of Brzozowski and Allen. Yet again Cucchi, in his first PWA contest of the year, scrambled his way back up into the top 5 and finished fourth just ahead of Pritchard.

Race 3 for the ladies was all change at the top. As Horwood led the pack up the first beat. The competition was hot on her heels in the form of Staszewska and Fauster, but they could not find the speed or tactics to surpass Horwood who was not about to hand them any chances. The second lap saw disaster for Staszewska who was overtaken, not only by Fauster, but also by Shreeve who now seemed to be finding the form that had served her so well earlier in the year. Horwood held her nerve to take the win ahead of Fauster, Shreeve and a very disappointed Staszewska

Race 4 would run on the same square course but this time it was Pritchard who would set the pace off the start line. All the usual suspects were coming on strong in his wake however, and it was very close between Brzozowski, Albeau and Allen as they streaked up the first beat. The more tactical aspect of the square course made for much more opportunity to overtake and using all of his experience, Allen managed to put his downwind speed to use and steal the lead by the second lap. Pritchard, by now, had vanished from the leader board.

The gusty conditions were making racing hard work and the master tacticians were starting to shine, playing the shifts and the gusts for maximum benefit. By the time the men had made it back up to the course, Brzozowski and Albeau had taken the initiative from Allen who was stuck back in third, looking in desperation at both his arch enemy and his world title hopes disappearing in front of him. Brzozowski held his ground to take his first race win here in France ahead of Albeau, Allen and the most consistent man so far, Andrea Cucchi taking his fourth consecutive fourth place in the event.

Dorota Staszewska was obviously not happy with her fourth place in Race 3 and came out of the starting blocks with guns blazing in race 4. Amazingly though it was French PWA newcomer Marianne Tertian (Naish) who rounded windward in first. Nevertheless, by the second lap, it was back to a game of follow the Polish leader as Staszewska dominated the course, looking comfortable in the number one slot. Horwood consolidated her position in second but could not get close to Staszewska, who held her nerve to take the race win. Fauster got the better of Shreeve on the second lap, stealing third from the young Australian.

After 4 grueling races the wind became even gustier and began to shift, so competition was called of for the day. The first day of battle here in France has put Antoine Albeau in very strong contention for the 2004 Nestea Men's Racing World Title and in the women's fleet, 3 of the top 4 girls still lie within easy reach of the title. However, with 4 days competition remaining and a good forecast in hand, victory is guaranteed for no one.