Today the ten Extreme 40 teams competing in the final of the 2009 iShares Cup were out racing within the confines of the Almerian harbour in the official practice session. In the build up to the final, many of the teams have already been out training in earnest, not least the top three podium contenders of Oman Sail Masirah and Renaissance, and Gitana Extreme – Groupe LCF Rothschild. These three teams are vying to claim the overall iShares Cup and any small advantage they can gain at this stage in understanding the conditions of racing here in Almeria are key. Even if the all skippers do not readily admit it, the pressure is on and tensions will be running high out on the water: “What’s our plan for this weekend? We are just going to try and keep out of trouble. It’s hard not to pile the pressure on any more than it already is, so will be treating every race in the same way as we did with the first or second event. Keep calm and stay out of trouble,” said Masirah helmsman, Chris Draper. Further down the leaderboard, expect to see a similarly hard-fought battle for fourth and fifth place. Groupama 40, BT, Team iShares and Holmatro are all in the running for the runners-up spot depending on their performance here.
It will be the pinnacle event for the sailors and it will also be the pinnacle event on shore of the 2009 season. The iShares Cup Almeria will boast the largest programme of activities and entertainment for the thousands of the public expected to attend over the holiday weekend.
From the skippers today:
Franck Cammas, Groupama 40:
"The race course in Almeria is rather similar to what we had in Amsterdam. We won't have long tacks, so once again starts will be essential. Yet we're expecting a bit more wind, so we're delighted to have Fred Lemaistre back with us. Of course, winning the Series does not seem like an option anymore, but we will fight until the end to get the best possible result, and why not win this event. In any case, it's great training for next year!"
Yann Guichard, Gitana Extreme - Groupe LCF Rothschild:
"We do not have a specific strategy for this finale. The racecourse is rather enclosed, even if it's only a breakwater separating us from the sea. Conditions are rather light, and it should be a good spectacle. True, Gitana plays for the championship title here but I think we'll only concentrate on that the last day. For the time being, we will try and sail correctly, avoiding to make mistakes. We fight against ourselves before fighting against the others."
Pete Cumming, Oman Sail Masirah:
“Forecast is looking like we are going to have a nice bit of wind each day. The race area is smaller than we thought and it’s going to be a little bit like Amsterdam with lots of features on the course, like little outcrops of pontoons and the harbour wall, so it’s going to be a really different kind of racing rather than a traditional up and down on one area of water. We’re feeling a bit of nerves but that’s good because if you don’t get fired up you won’t perform at the top of your game. But the guys are used to this - Chris and Mark have been at the Olympics, Freddie has done the America’s Cup, they are used to the pressure, it is second nature for them.”
Shirley Robertson, Team iShares;
"Being the only woman in the fleet should have some advantages, but the boys don't let me pass in front of them, they have such bad manners! More seriously, I love to be here, I think Almeria is a brilliant venue: for the past 3 days we've had sun and wind, the conditions are perfect. I just can't wait for it to start."
The non-scoring practice races today revealed three different winners – Franck Cammas/Groupama, Loick Peyron/Oman Sail Renaissance and the new team on the block, Fernando Echavarri/Rumbo Alermia [see separate story Go Almeria!].
The weather forecast for the next three days is predominantly light with stronger gusts building in the afternoon due to the thermal effect of the land heating up in the high temperatures here in Almeria. Today the boats raced in around 12-13 knots of southerly breeze – plenty to get the hulls flying. Saturday is expected to bring the lightest conditions of the whole event with the breeze increasing Sunday and Monday.