It was a thriller of a team final at the European Championships in Aachen tonight, as the same men that won gold at the World Championships in Normandy last year went to the top of the podium again after a competition that was a real nail biter. Ahead of the final, it was France that was in the lead with 2.12 penalties down to Netherlands, while Germany sat in third 2.7 behind the French. With a class that had it all, including that extra pressure that came with Olympic qualification for the three best teams out of Ireland, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland and Great Britain, every single spectator was kept at the edge of the seat to the bitter end as the ten teams in the competition battled it out in the huge grass ring that looked stunning as it floated in sunshine.
The first clear among the pathfinders was set by Switzerland’s Romain Duguet who rode the round of his life on Quorida de Treho (Kannan x Tolbiac de Forets), and who worked properly to get out of the triple combination but still keeping it in one piece. Crossing the finish line on a clean sheet the Swiss team was one step closer to Rio, and Duguet had produced a double clear in the team competition.
In the end it was only five double clear rounds. The track set by Frank Rothenberger proved to be a real challenger. Again it was a very long way around the thirteen fence track, and though faults spread out there was a lot of riders that had the light wavy planks away from the in-gate down, or in the giant triple combination that followed - but several also struggled on the line following the water. Surprisingly, the water itself and the double of verticals with water trays towards the end caused minimal headache.
The next clear was delivered straight after Duguet, by Ukraine's Cassio Rivetti on the lovely Vivant (Fuego du Prelet x Landino) - who has been a faithful team member since 2011 with different riders in the saddle and now has reached 17 years old. With his round, Rivetti positioned himself very well individually and sits second ahead of Sunday’s final for the top 25. Ben Maher continued the clear round party, sorting out Diva II (Kannan x Berlioz) after yesterday’s crash through the final fence - and his team could start dreaming about Rio.
The fourth clear in a row came from the Germans, courtesy of Meredith Michael-Beerbaum on Fibonacci (For Feeling x Corland) and the pressure was on for the Dutch and the French team. Jeroen Dubbeldam does not take pressure though, and produced another clear for his team on Zenith SFN N.O.P (Rash R x Fuego du Prelet) - his third of the week. When Penelope Leprevost, the leading lady of the competition, had the planks at fence four down - things looked like they were about to change.
It was not until Germany’s second rider entered that another clear round came. But Christian Ahlmann delivered on the 15 year old Taloubet Z (Galoubet A x Polydor) - with the home crowds going wild as the score was kept at 8.40. Maikel van der Vleuten followed up for Netherlands though, riding a superb clear on the medal collector VDL Groep Verdi TN N.O.P. (Quidam de Revel x Landgraf I). For France, things continued to go wrong as Simon Delestre and Ryan des Hayettes (Hugo Gesmeray x Ryon d’Anzex) fell victim of the c-element of the triple combination.
Drama evolved when Ireland’s Cian O’Connor left the ring throwing his fist towards the judge tower as he had one down on the oxer at eleven, following a crew member being slightly in the way in his turn possibly causing the Irish rider a bit of his concentration and a pole down. With Olympic qualification at stake, O’Connor certainly did not look happy when he made his departure from the ring as the third rider on his team with four faults. Spain was catching up, and after their three first riders had left the ring they were ahead of Ireland. Later a protest was made by Ireland, but did not go through at this stage.
With two down for Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs and one for Janika Sprunger, it was all down to their anchorman Estermann who would be last to go. And as Ukraine dropped down following big penalty scores for Rene Tebbel and Ferenc Szentirmai, things were changing on top of the scoreboard. Great Britain also had faults added as Jessica Mendoza had a mistake on the water as their second rider, and when Joe Clee had to see 5c fall to the ground any medal chances started to fade - but Rio qualification was secured as the team’s worst score would be 18.99.
When home hero Ludger Beerbaum also fell victim to the triple combination, a sigh of disappointment went through the crowds. And when Jur Vrieling could have decided it all on VDL Zirrocco Blue N.O.P. (Mr. Blue x Voltaire) with a clear round, it all got intensified by his single time fault for Netherlands. With a clear round from Germany’s last rider, it would also take a clear from the Dutch anchor to secure the win - one down for Germany would mean gold to Netherlands, it was as tight as it possibly could be. The French disaster continued though, with two down from Jerome Hurel they were slipping down the ranks.
Ireland’s Denis Lynch put the pressure on when posting a clear on All Star 5 (Argentinus x Alme), tightening the grip on that ticket for Rio - meaning Sergio Alvarez Moya needed to go clear for Spain to snatch the flight from the Irish. And so he did, also taking over the lead individually on Carlo 273 (Contender x Cascavelle) with his tiny score of 1.47 after being clear all the way in Aachen. Switzerland also nailed it when their steady duo Paul Estermann and Castlefield Eclipse (Obos Quality x Furisto) went double clear, cutting their score to 18.23 and taking the second ticket to Rio.
Great Britain could not hold it together, even with their veteran Michael Whitaker as last to go. Cassionato (Cassini I x Quidam de Revel) thought the double of verticals was a bit too much, and it took a real Whitaker to make him jump it - but on the expense of one down. And with a lot of tension in his body, the final fence fell too for the ten year old stallion. Discharging Michael’s faults, the team was left on a total of 18.99 penalties - with a medal out of reach but still ready for Rio.
It was all down to Germany's Daniel Deusser. A clear round from him and Cornet D’Amour (Cornet Obolensky x Damiani) would mean there would still be a chance to win gold should things go wrong for the Dutch. But, it was not to be - the oxer at eight went to the ground and it was game over and silver medal for the hosts with a score of 12.40.
Netherlands’ Gerco Schröder entered the ring as team European Champion before even jumping a fence, their score would at the worst be 8.82 whatever he would do. It was maybe not the round of Schröder’s dreams though as three fences went down during his way around on Glock’s Cognac Champblanc (Clearway) to put him out of the individual contest after being clear the first two days. Either way, gold was secured and Gerco could join his already celebrating team members outside the ring.
As last to go, Kevin Staut could secure the bronze for France with a clear round - but with two down early on it was the end of the game for his team and the Swiss could celebrate their amazing climb up from Wednesday’s thirteen position to the podium two days later many thanks to fantastic team spirit and never giving up.
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