The Dutch team dominated the Nations Cup in La Baule, from start to finish. Rob Ehrens’ all-male team consisting of Wout-Jan van der Schans on Aquila SFN (Ovidius x Lauriston), Leopold van Asten on VDL Groep Zidane N.O.P. (Heartbreaker x Calando I), Jur Vrieling on VDL Glasgow vh Merelsnest (Nabab de Reve x Darco) and Willem Greve on Carambole N.O.P. (Cassini I x Concerto II) finished the first competition of Europe Divison 1 on one single time penalty, and collected the maximum amount of points up for grabs in the series.
After the first round, no less than four teams were on a zero penalty score though. The Dutch one was one of them, and were up against strong teams from USA, Great Britain and Switzerland – all sharing the pole position. Not far behind trailed the home heroes on four faults, while Germany had a disappointing start after ending the first round on eight faults and the same went for the title holders from Belgium that were left on nine penalties. Brazil was sitting last on a score of twelve.
There was little to do for either Brazil or Belgium despite a double clear round from Stefan de Freitas Barcha and only a single time penalty recorded in round two from Jos Verlooy’s side, and in the end Brazil finished last of the eight teams and Belgium seventh.
The Germans came back strong though, after a first round that left them on an unexpected eight penalties even after Ludger Beerbaum’s unusual twelve faults on Chiara 222 (Contender x Coronado) were dropped. Clear rounds from Christian Ahlmann and Daniel Deusser put them sixth after round one, but when Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum – who had eight penalties in the first round on Fibonacci 17 (For Feeling x Corland) – came back strong to finish on a zero in round two and Daniel and Ludger copying her it was this time Christian’s five fault score that could be dropped and the Germans climbed up to fourth.
That was a position they shared with Switzerland, that fell down on the result list after an incredible start that saw Janika Sprunger, Martin Fuchs and Steve Guerdat all go clear making it possible to discharge Paul Estermann’s twelve faults after he got in trouble at the open water. The tables were turned in round two, and only Estermann managed to produce a clear.
“It was a good course to ride, but it was long. In the first round there were enough clears, in the second one less – so then you could see that the course was a long one,” explained Dutch Chef d’Equipe Rob Ehrens afterwards about how some horses ran a bit empty in the second part of the competition over Frederic Cottier’s finely tuned track notching up penalties in several places.
The hosts had lined up an all-star team, but were still sitting in fifth after round one. When Penelope Leprevost on the consistent Flora de Mariposa (For Pleasure x Power Light) and Simon Delestre on the tiny rubber ball Hermès Ryan (Hugo Gesmeray Sf x Ryon D'Anzex) both went clear again for France in round two, it all started to look a bit better. But, when Kevin Staut repeated his one rail down in round two hopes were slowly sinking again.
Wout-Jan van der Schans had gotten his team mates off to the best possible start when opening round two with a beautiful double clear on Aquila SFN. A time penalty from Leopold van Asten’s side aboard VDL Groep Zidane N.O.P. – clear in round one – could have proved costly, but Jur Vrieling bounced back from his eight faults in the first round to go clear and it looked like the Dutch were tightening the grip of the competition.
USA on the other hand had a disappointing start in round two, with twelve faults from Lauren Hough on Ohlala (Orlando x Cardento) as first to go. Luckily, Margie Goldstein-Engel on Royce (Cafe Au Lait x Grandilot) and Lucy Davis on Barron (For Pleasure x Nabab de Reve) where able to keep it together and rode strong double clear rounds to keep the US team in the loop for the win.
Like Van der Schans, Nick Skelton got his team underway with a wonderful double clear in a comeback much longed for aboard Big Star (Quick Star x Nimmerdor). Unfortunately, Joe Clee could not repeat his first clear and had a rail on the third last vertical while Ben Maher finished on eight faults in the second round after having four in the first.
So, when the anchor riders entered the ring it looked very much like a battle between Netherlands and USA with France and Great Britain luring behind. France had Roger Yves Bost on Sydney Une Prince (Baloubet du Rouet x Alfa D'Elle*Hn) as last-to-go, and usually a speed phenomenon it was a big surprise to see Bosty cross the finish line on a time fault putting his team on a total score of five whereas four where from the first round.
“Actually, the time was quite generous,” said course designer Frederic Cottier afterwards. “But, many of the riders focused so much on being clear that they did not think about the time. A prime example is Bosty, who almost never has a time fault – it just shows how the riders reacted to the course.”
Willem Greve, clear the first time out, displayed fantastic riding aboard the stunning Carambole N.O.P. – but also fell victim to the time allowed and added one penalty to his team’s tally. To beat the Dutch, the Americans now had to go clear and the pressure fell on Todd Minikus’ shoulders. But, Babalou 41 (Balou du Rouet x Silvio I) hit the front rail on the oxer at no. four and the win was a Dutch one. Michael Whitaker could have saved the day with a clear round for Great Britain so that they would have been left on a four penalty score too, but it fell apart towards the end and the veteran had two rails down on Cassionato (Cassini I x Quidam de Revel) – leaving the second place to the US team and third to the hosts.
“Of course I am very pleased with my horse, who did a double clear round. This is the second time he jumps a Nations Cup, he did it before in Dublin and there he was double clear as well. Today he gave me the feeling that he jumps it really easy. It was good to give the other guys a bit of spirit and put the oldest guy in front,” joked Wout-Jan van der Schans after going double clear with the 11-year-old gelding Aquila SFN.
As to the tactics when it comes to which riders to put in which positions, Rob Ehrens commented: "It is always difficult, and the first rider going needs to be comfortable with that position." Laughing, Rob continued: "Yesterday, Wout-Jan had his birthday and turned 55-years-young and his present was that he had to be number one on the team. And it worked out!”
Anchor rider Willem Greve concluded: “My horse jumped good, and I thought in the second round he jumped very good. The time fault was my mistake, I took a bit too much time to fence number four and fence number five. We had a very good start with Wout-Jan who was double clear, and we all had our part in the success today and we achieved this victory together. I am very proud of the whole team."
With their win, the Dutch team – allocated to collect points in La Baule – earned the maximum of 100 points while France got 80, Germany 70 and Great Britain 60. Belgium took 50 points.
Text © World of Showjumping // Pictures © Tiffany van Halle
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