|The winners crossing the finish line. Foto: Mikael Anisset for www.midilibre.fr|
Surprisingly, the start was given almost 10 minutes before the scheduled time because of the difficulties of the more than 800 competitors at Vallon Pont d'Arc to stay steady on the strong stream.
About 50 minutes before a similar bunch of paddlers started the Challenge competition (for large crew boats) about 4 km runway below from the famous natural arch which gives access to the river gorge. The unexpected early start at the Marathon race in Vallon Pont d'Arc took some participants not yet ready in their line, warming up upstream, but the seeded boats actually were all of them ready. After the first few minutes of tension due to strong rapids and the river being fully packed of paddlers, when passing through the great arch of the gorge the race already had two leading K2s with a slight advantage. Lucas/Boulanger and the surfski specialist Yannick Laousse partnering with Olympic paddler Cyrille Carré stood out slightly from their rivals.
In K1, the French, German and Czech specialists, but this year with absences as the defending champion Tomas Slovak, took the lead in the early stages, with the Spanish Kiko Vega, among others, trying not to lose the lead.
As the race was entering the long and mighty gorge, the positions would be little bit clearer, with Kiko Vega reaching the French duo by Lambert and Leroux in the leading group. In K2 gradually Lucas/Boulanger and Laousse/Carré were making it clear that this was going to be about a duel between them just down to the finish line.
|The always spectacular way through the great arch of the Ardèche Gorge. Foto: Gonzalo Melero|
So, coming to the final stretch of river at Saint Martin d'Ardèche, Lucas and Boulanger showed a better final rush and won a thrilling sprint with a very good time of 1h28'36", close to the record established last year by Bouzán and Fiuza in 1h27'50". Finally, the third place went to the also French crew of Bonnetain and Pete, leaving the Spaniards Pérez and Llorens in fourth and off the podium.
In K1, in a grand finale, Kiko Vega got rid of his two front group rivals and entered solo the finish line in 1h34'58", leading by just over 30 seconds on the French Nicolas Lambert and Benoît Le Roux, who entered in that order to fulfill the podium, the three of them riding surfskis. The veteran German paddler Markus Gickler was fourth in a very fancy kayak, actually a modified K2 with just one cockpit in the center.
In other categories, the fight was not less impressive, specailly in the Mixt K2, with 5 crews in less than a minute. The win (second title in a row) was for Olaf Heijne and Stien Verlinden (NED/BEL), shortly followed by Andreas Heilinger/Ines Bäuerle (GER) and in third position by the World K2 500m champion and actual silver medalist in K1 at the European Games Yvonne Schuring partnering with Klaus Gieres (AUT/GER).
In the womens competition, clear victory in K2 for the 200m French specialist Sarah Guyot and Manon Hostens. In K1 Martina Satkova (CZE) took victory with more than two minutes on their rivals. Czech Republic also claim the C1 title by its paddler Antonin Hales.
The results of the marathon categories can be viewed at this link. And finally, a short video of the event:
Marathon international des gorges de l'Ardèche por Rhone-Alpes