Just meters from the glistering waters of the Mediterranean Sea in the iconic French Riviera, 16 GCL teams will take on Grégory Bodo’s courses over 2 rounds at the 5th stage of the season. The better a team performs in Round 1, the later down the order it will start in Round 2 and the higher the chances are to win the stage and collect big points in the championship race.
However, the Longines Athina Onassis Horse Show, as the event is officially labelled, has a cruel record with Round 1 leaders. As a matter of fact, the last 3 Round 1 leaders all failed to win the stage despite their top position.
In 2019, Valkenswaard United was one of 2 teams to finish the first round on 4 penalties and their fast time put them on top of the board. The team did not undergo any changes between Round 1 and Round 2 and with Alberto Zorzi and the consistent Cinsey as last to go, the team sat comfortably as they had a 2-penalty margin on Madrid In Motion who had just jumped double clear in Round 2 to finish on a total 6 penalty score. But Zorzi dropped 2 rails, handing Madrid In Motion the win and barely hanging on to third place, beating 2 other teams on time.
The tables turned for Valkenswaard United in 2021. Together with Shanghai Swans they sat clear after Round 1, but teammates Peder Fredricson and Edwina Tops-Alexander were slower in the initial round than the star pairing of Kühner and Ahlmann for the Shanghai Swans. Again, United did not chance the line-up for Round 2 and again, 8 penalties got added to the sheet, putting the team on 8 after a rail for each rider.
With an 8-penalty cushion, things could not go wrong for Shanghai Swans. Yet they did. A first rail for Ahlmann left little room for Max Kühner and EIC Coriolis des Isles. Counting on a slow clear that would put them behind United on time but in front of the Dutch-based team on scores, the Austrian only had the final fence to jump. As the final fence fell and the time stopped, a surprised Tops-Alexander realized that they, Valkenswaard United, won the stage and not the Swans.
In 2022, again saw 2 teams sat on the same score after Round 1. The odds-on favourites, Stockholm Hearts, had powered through Round 1 with Catch Me Nots S and H&M Indiana 3.5 seconds clear of Prague Lions. Only one team jumped double clear on the sloped arena of Ramatuelle / St. Tropez but it was none of the leading teams. Pieter Devos, as last man in for Prague Lions compensated for the slightly slower time of team-mate Niels Bruynseels but in the rush Devos’ mare MoM’s Toupie de la Roque dropped her only rail that season. H&M Indiana than became one of just 4 horses to jump double clear that weekend and all Fredricson had to do was jump clear or if a rail would fall, be fast enough to beat the Lions on time.
He failed at both. The rail was painful but the 0.25sec time difference was excruciating. Divided over 2 riders, that quarter of a second cost Stockholm Hearts powered by H&M not only the podium. It also cost them 5 points on the championship standings, scoring just 25 instead of 30.
The impact of that stage? Stockholm Hearts powered by H&M lost the championship to Berlin Eagles, now Riesenbeck International powered by Kingsland, by 5 points, the points they missed in St. Tropez.
What will the 2023 edition and 99th stage of GCL, the ultimate teams challenge, bring in Ramatuelle / St. Tropez? Time will tell, with the class kicking off at 2:15pm local time tomorrow [Friday 2 June], all the action and in depth analysis will be streamed on GCTV.