The Stade François André in La Baule has witnessed some thrilling equestrian in previous years and this was no exception as Michael Whitaker, one of the most popular riders on the international circuit, sealed the result for Great Britain in a thrilling finale.
He endured a heart-stopping first effort riding Cassionato, but the 55-year-old brought the spectacular grey home with just two time faults at his second attempt to claim top place on the podium
British pathfinder, Joe Clee, showed his class by producing one of four double-clears with Utamaro D’Ecaussines, and with just four faults from Spencer Roe and Wonder Why and five from Guy Williams and Titus, British Chef d’Equipe Di Lampard had every reason to be pleased.
The host nation France lined up a close second ahead of Ireland in third, while Spain and Belgiumshared fourth spot, Brazil and Switzerland shared sixth and the defending Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping champions from the Netherlands finished last of the eight competing nations.
The time-allowed from course designer Frederic Cottier was 75 seconds, which saw seven horse-and-rider combinations collect time faults in the first round as six combinations went clear.
Fourteen horse-and-rider combinations then jumped clear in the second round, only four being double-clear rounds from Great Britain's Joe Clee (on Utamaro D'Ecaussines), France’s Nicolas Delmotte (on Number One D'Iso Un Prince), Spain's Sergio Alvarez Moya (on Carlo) and Brazil's Pedro Veniss (on Quabri de L'Isle).
As the second round began, the Dutch, already lying last with 22 faults on the board, had their chances further undermined by elimination for pathfinder Gert Jan Bruggink.
Jean-Maurice Bonneau’s Brazilian side, which were carrying 20 faults, were transformed by the second of two clear rounds from Pedro Veniss and foot-perfect runs from the exciting Karina Johannpeter and Felipe Amaral.
And the Spanish also rallied, adding nothing to their 13-fault scoreline when Manuel Fernandez Saro and Eduardo Alvarez Aznar were fault-free this time out and Sergio Alvarez Moya went double-clear with Carlo.
The Swiss however were forced to add eight faults when Steve Guerdat retired his Olympic ride, Nino des Buissonnets, meaning the real battle was played out between the French, Irish, Belgians and British.
Lying fourth on nine faults, the hosts piled on the pressure when Jerome Hurel’s single time-fault was the discard as Nicolas Delmotte and Number One D’Iso Un Prince produced the second part of their double-clear and both Simon Delestre and anchorman Kevin Staut returned penalty-free.
The Irish were just a single fault ahead as round two began, and looked set to hold their advantage if Bertram Allen, and his mare Molly Malone could leave the course intact once again. However two mistakes ensured the single error posted by Greg Broderick and the promising MHS Going Global had to be added, allowing the French to move ahead.
The Belgians were carrying four faults and lost their grip on runner-up spot when adding nine more to their tally. Jos Verlooy (on Domino) and Gregory Wathelet (on Conrad de Hus) followed first-round clears with single errors, and those had to be added to Niels Bruynseels‘ single time-fault with Pommeau de Heup when Pieter Devos (on Dream of India Greenfield) had two fences down.
Clee’s second clear round seemed to set the British up for success, but when both Roe and Williams‘ geldings lowered fences, the pressure was all on Michael Whitaker’s shoulders, as one mistake would see the British forced into a jump-off with the French.
Like Williams, he put only a single time fault on the board first time out, but only after some extraordinarily dramatic moments including a one-handed ride over the open water. His second effort though was considerably less of an effort, and, knowing he could play with the time but not the fences, his two time-faults were plenty good enough to secure the win.
The British were not chasing Furusiyya points in La Baule, but they will be when they arrive for the next leg of the Europe Division 1 series which will take place at Piazza di Siena in Rome, Italy on Friday 22 May
And there is just a possibility that the entire Great Britain team could consist of members of the Whitaker family next Friday, as five of them, including Michael, have been selected for the third leg of the Europe Division 1 League.
Final Result :
1. Great Britain 7 faults
2. France 9 faults
3. Ireland 12 faults
4. Spain 13 faults
5. Belgium 13 faults
6. Brazil 20 faults
7. Switzerland 20 faults
8. Netherlands 32 faults
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