Hamilton, Bermuda - Triple Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie (GBR) TEAMORIGIN put in a sublime performance to add a second Argo Group Gold Cup to his team’s trophy cabinet after a scintillating final against Jesper Radich (DEN) Gaastra Racing Team in Stage 8 of the World Match Racing Tour.
The final had all the hallmarks of a classic with Radich showing consistently good form throughout the week with 12 wins out of 13, while Ainslie and his crew had been gaining momentum day by day. For added spice, Radich was seeking retribution for his final defeat at the hands of Ainslie in stage 5 of the Tour – Stena Match Cup Sweden.
In the first race, having eye-balled each other on the start line waiting for one another to flinch, both skippers breathed down each other’s necks on the first run. Having rounded the leeward mark, they soon came together once more with Ainslie dialing down to duck below Radich’s stern. The Dane then held a tiny advantage approaching the second windward mark on port tack to clear just inches ahead of Ainslie and re-take the lead, which he held to the finish.
Ainslie had a tantalizing wait to get his revenge, as dozens of Optimists flocked onto the race course for the RenRe Junior Gold Cup final, featuring young sailors from each of the competitor nations at the Argo Group Gold Cup. He used it to good effect though, as Ainslie rallied his team to take full advantage of the 10-12 knot breeze in his next race.
Having masterfully controlled Radich in the pre-start, Ainslie was a nose ahead at their first cross, which he held to round the windward mark in pole position. With his trusted tactician, Iain Percy at his side, the Briton switched to protect the right hand side of the course on the second beat. It paid off as their boat picked up a left-hand wind shift to take an unassailable lead to the finish.
The umpires worked at a frenetic rate in match 3, as Ainslie and Radich repeatedly crossed tacks, resulting in contact and a penalty for Radich. After a thrilling rounding of the windward mark, Radich threw in a dummy gybe, then followed it with a full gybe, hoping to cross ahead of Ainslie. Unfortuantely for the Danes, it forced Ainslie to change course handing Radich a red flag immediate penalty and effectively a second victory to Ainslie.
The excitement builds
It was do-or-die now for Radich if he wanted to take the Gold Cup and a US$50,000 winner’s cheque home. Ainslie himself knew that for his ISAF Match Racing World Championship ambitions, a win in Bermuda would leave him only two points behind second-placed Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/Black Match Racing and 17 adrift of current Tour leader, Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team going into the Monsoon Cup finale in Malaysia.
Radich had the nose on Ainslie as they approached the first mark, a lead which the Brit tried to take by sticking his bow inside Radich’s boat in an attempt to round first. It was an overzealous move that collected him a penalty. The spectators, who by now had formed an armada of vessels within Hamilton Harbour, could sense the tension as the two teams, watched closely by the umpires, went toe-to-toe: a dramatic luff saw both spinnakers flogging and a penalty against Radich that leveled the score. A double gybe and another huge luff from Radich raised blue and yellow flags, indicating both boats had infringed the rules. The next penalty was against Radich for sailing Ainslie past the layline to the leeward mark. Then, with Ainslie luffing hard, Radich took a final blow, picking up a further penalty that gave Ainslie a big enough cushion to effectively enjoy a victory lap of the course.
Reflecting on his triumph, Ainslie said: “We made it hard for ourselves and had a battle all the way through but maybe what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. We had fantastic racing against Jesper – it was classic stuff, as good as match racing ever gets.”
Radich was modest in defeat: “It was fantastic to be in the final with ideal conditions today. I’m really happy to have been able to put up a strong fight against Ben’s team – at the moment, they are the best match racing team in the world.”
The focus on the sailing world now turns to the final event of the World Match Racing Tour, the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia. The outlook has become bleaker for Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team and Ian Williams (GBR) Team GAC Pindar sponsored by Argo Group. They are now 29 and 33 points behind overall leader Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team respectively, with their fate lying in the hands of Richard, Ainslie and Minoprio. Richard will no doubt be pleased that his overall lead remains intact, with Minoprio only closing the gap by two points. After a challenging week Ainslie’s team will have been buoyed by their emphatic victory in Bermuda and the opportunity to take the overall Match Racing World Champion title in Malaysia.