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Winners crowned at epic Lords of Tram

Published 2nd April 2023 by Ian MacKinnon

 

  • Big Air world champion Mikaili Sol’s composure earns her the title

  • Liam Whaley wins big with high-class performance in tricky final

Lords of Tram GKA Big Air Kite World Cup France 2023-Day Two
1-30 April, Barcarès

Spain’s Liam Whaley used his competition experience to the full to take the top prize in the final on the second drama-packed day of the Lords of Tram GKA Big Air World Cup at Barcarès in southern France.

Reigning Bir Air world champion Mikaili Sol saw off a strong challenge from France’s Angely Bouillot in the women’s final. Sol’s composure helped her work through the gears to rack up the scores she needed to take the win.

Both riders are keen to cement their pole positions in the race for the Qatar Airways GKA Big Air World Championship crowns at the next tour stop in Tarifa, Spain, in May, and were delighted with their victories.

“It feels so good,” said Whaley. “I’ve had such a journey and I’ve had a challenging last year. I was a bit burned out after so many years competing. I’ve not been training as much as normal. I came into this event with no expectations and just tried to have fun. It worked out. I’m super-stoked.”

Eighteen-year-old Sol, a five-time GKA freestyle world champion, was equally pleased, especially as the conditions in the final were challenging. “I’d like it to have been a little windier,” she said. “Yesterday the conditions were insane. So I’m super-stoked with the win and want to thank everyone.”

Strong Tramontana winds

The contest was the fifth edition of Lords of Tram, but this is the first year the event has teamed up with the Qatar Airways GKA Kite World Tour. It was the first stop of the GKA Big Air World Championships.

A second round will be held in Tarifa, Spain, at the Qatar Airways GKA Big Air Kite World Championships with a competition window from 26 May to 16 June, featuring twin-tip, strapless and hydrofoil disciplines.

The GKA is hoping to add a third Big Air tour stop later in the year, after which the world champions will be crowned.

The Lords of Tram event had a month-long competition window so that organisers could choose the strongest days of famous Tramontana winds that howl over the flat-water lagoon competition area at Barcarès.

But the north-westerly winds showed up on the first scheduled days of competition. After the first day when the 12 women battled all the way to the semi-finals in winds that hit more than 50 knots, the 24 men got their chance on the water.

Day two saw the high-octane action kick-off early, with steady winds that built up to more than 40 knots, providing for spectacular and dramatic heats. As the riders went head-to-head, there were some breath-taking moments, including reigning GKA Big Air world champion Andrea Principi’s astonishing contra-loop backroll board-off when he reached 17.1 metres, and travelled 235 metres while airborne for 18.1 seconds.

Big name casualties

But the gusty and strong winds also caused a few problems, with a number of riders accidentally releasing their kites at the tops of their jumps, causing some big crashes.

When France’s Clement Huot tried to pull the first-ever triple loop in competition, he paid the price with a hard fall. He was recovering in the hospital where he was in stable condition, but the incident put the competition on hold for a time.

The battles as the riders went toe-to-toe, throwing down seven trick attempts with the best three scores counting, also saw a number of upsets as some of the biggest names in Big Air kiteboarding fell victim to the younger generation.

Edgar Ulrich (FRA) dispatched the former Red Bull King of the Air Champion Marc Jacobs with a great display, racking up an 8.13 score for a double kite-loop board off that helped end the run of the New Zealander.

Brazilian young gun Josué San put together a good heat that included a 6.90 for a contra-loop frontroll board-off that ended the dreams of the Netherlands’ Cohan van Dijk, after he could not find his rhythm or the gusts he needed.

Heat scores challenged

But one of the day’s biggest upsets came when the Netherlands’ Jamie Overbeek edged out compatriot Giel Vlugt by less than a point. Vlugt was angry and demanded the judges review the heat, but in the end the scores stood.

Overbeek’s progress earned him the right to battle against Liam Whaley in one semi-final. It was another tight affair, but Whaley was finding his groove and three eight-plus trick scores, including an 8.23 for a double kite-loop double frontroll, put Overbeek out.

Overbeek, 17, found himself in the mini-final against Lorenzo Casati (ESP) also 17, the current Red Bull King of the Air. But a big crash when Casati’s kite released gave Overbeek the third spot on the podium.

“I feel really good,” said Overbeek. “I didn’t expect to come this far in the competition and I’m really super-stoked. I’m definitely excited for the GKA Big Air calendar. I’m hoping for a lot of wind at every event so I can send it huge.”

The other semi-final could have been a final on any other day. But Andrea Principi was just too strong for Casati. Even in the slightly difficult conditions, Principi found a gust for a contra-loop backroll board-off that was 15 metres high, travelling for 120 metres while in the air for 11 seconds, giving him the win.

World champion outgunned

In the final against Whaley, though, Principi was outgunned. Whaley notched up the day’s biggest heat score of 26.37, including a 9.37 for a double kite-loop board-off, that helped him triumph over Principi.

“I feel pretty good, even if I feel bad,” said Principi, 18. “ I arrived in second place. It burns a bit because I did all the competition pretty good. Then in the final I just missed the right gust. But I’m still happy. It’s still second place.”

On the women’s side it was a chance to complete the competition abandoned on day one at the semi-final stage as the wind got too strong. Angely Bouillot defeated Nathalie Lambrecht (SWE) in one semi-final, while Mikaili Sol was too good for Francesca Maini (GBR) in the other.

When the experienced freestyler Lambrecht went up against Maini in the mini-final contest, the Swede was just too strong and won the race to the third podium spot.

“It feels really amazing,” said Lambrecht. “I was here for only a few days before for training and I haven’t been doing much Big Air before this event. So I wasn’t all that confident. But at the end of the day you just need to do what you’ve prepared forin the past years. So, I’m happy with the result.”

words: Ian MacKinnon
pictures: Samuel Cárdenas

Lords of Tram GKA Big Air World Cup France 2023 results

Men

1 Liam Whaley (ESP)
2 Andrea Principi (ITA)
3 Jamie Overbeek (NED)
4 Lorenzo Casati (ESP)

Women

1 Mikaili Sol (USA)
2 Angely Bouillot (FRA)
3 Nathalie Lambrecht (SWE)
4 Francesca Maini (GBR)

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