The stage is set for the year’s biggest kite racing event with the globe’s fastest riders planning to assemble on Oman’s crystal clear waters in just one month to do battle for the coveted Formula Kite World Championship crowns.
With the decision on kiteboarding’s bid to become a “showcase event” at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics imminent, it is expected the showdown for the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) titles will also draw a large fleet with real strength in depth.
Yet it is the prospect of all the top men and women—who have not appeared on the same stage so far this year—coming together to go head-to-head in kiteboarding’s searingly-quick, cutting-edge discipline that is truly mouthwatering.
Muscat’s Al Mouj Beach on the Sea of Oman, bathed with constant breezes, will serve as the perfect backdrop for the unfolding drama, ensuring the world-class athletes can perform to the highest level as they go for glory from November 18 to 24.
The IKA Formula Kite format, which will be used at the Tokyo Games if kiteboarding is successful, restricts racers to four registered series production kites and one hydrofoil for the event to provide a level playing field and ensure only the best athletes win.
But the restrictions do nothing to hinder riders’ speeds and on-going developments mean competitors often hit 40kts on downwind legs of the windward-leeward courses, matched by breathtaking upwind angles on the efficient carbon hydrofoils teamed with powerful foil
Now it is kiteboarding’s turn to join the illustrious line-up, and with a clutch of reigning and former world champions eager to grace the Al Mouj Beach arena, the contests are bound to produce fireworks.
Key among the men is France’s Nico Parlier, 22, who proved almost unbeatable at the Sardinia Kiteboard Grand Slam in Italy last week, when he was crowned World Champion in the “open” IKA KiteFoil Class.
But as invincible as Parlier appeared, two other riders could yet find chinks in his armour if conditions play into their hands.
Countryman Axel Mazella showed at the Sardinia event that he has what it takes when he bested Parlier in a number of races, while the returning reigning Formula Kite World Champion Maxime Nocher, of Monaco, is hungry to retain his crown.
Another former Formula Kite World Champion, the US’s Johnny Heineken is also to make the trip seeking to pit his skill and pace against the top Europeans.
He will also find himself up against another one-time holder of the crown, Germany’s Florian Gruber.
All will have their mettle tested by Britain’s Guy Bridge, 18, who has on occasion at recent regattas stolen a march on most of his rivals with his blistering pace.
Elder sibling, Olly Bridge, also has the sheer raw speed and tactical appreciation to be in with a shout for the title in Oman.
Their mother, Steph Bridge, multiple champion and world ranked number one, will undoubtedly be pushing hard in the women’s fleet, which will race separately from the men.
But the British veteran will have her work cut out trying to contain foil racing prodigy, the US’s reigning Formula Kite World Champion, Daniela Moroz, 16.
Both will face-off against Russia’s Elena Kalinina, another former world champion who will be keen to avenge last year’s defeat by Moroz, and the French duo of Alexia Fancelli and Anaïs Mai Desjardins, also just 16.
IKA CEO Markus Schwendtner is equally enthralled by the promise of gathering such a classy field on a track that will best highlight the discipline and the athletes’ supreme talent.
“This event in Oman in such a spectacular setting with unrivalled kitefoil racing conditions is without doubt going to be the highlight of the calendar,” said Schwendtner.