British Paragliding Open at St Jean Montclar, France

British Paragliding Open at St Jean Montclar, France

Next Post Previous Post

Photobucket” Waiting at the start – Steve (L) and Idris (R) on the bright green wings

Last week myself and Idris Birch competed in the British Paragliding Open at St Jean Montclar in France. Due to the recent changes in the FAI rules, this would be a completely serial class event only. I wasn’t even down to do this competition until the week before, but as several Open class pilots withdrew I managed to secure a last minute place. Having raced before at St Jean, I knew how good this area was for racing; a huge ridge called the Dormilouse, relatively small hills in the valley in front and a lake crossing to a big lump called the Morgan.

The weekend started with very heavy rain followed by a run of high wind days, so I was glad to have packed my mountain bike!  The first task was set on Wednesday, which was a 63km race to goal. Unfortunately the task was cancelled about 45 mins in, due to 2 separate incidents on the ridge. A helicopter was called and the meet director considered that stopping the task was the only option was to get pilots away from the ridge.

Thursday was a 68km race to goal, this time with task designed to give pilots more options on how to tackle the course. The turnpoints were mainly in the valley, but you could choose fast lines on the ridge or slower routes straight down the valley. This was really interesting as the gaggles were splitting then reforming over the turnpoints. After a really good start on my MENTOR 2, I was able to keep with the lead gaggle, even on the glides. The glide on this wing at full speed is simply amazing (I know so much has been written about this, but its true) and enjoyable at the same time. About half way around the course I got stuck trying to connect back to the main Dormilouse ridge above St Vincent, I had thought this part would be easy and maybe should have slowed down earlier. Being forced around the base of the ridge just above the trees, I was rewarded with a ripper of a climb from 1700m to 3000m in minutes putting me back in the game. From here Idris and I took completely different lines; me on a longer, quicker ridge run and Idris straight down the valley. 10km later we arrived at the turnpoint almost together. With one turnpoint left before the goal, it was going to be a NOVA vs NOVA race back for Sports Class glory. We hit the last turnpoint neck and neck and just had to judge how many turns to make in the thermal that was created by the turnpoint. I decided to head for goal and saw Idris starting to turn one more time, but then he realised and headed the same way. Side by side we jostled at 50km/h+ for the last 3 km glide into goal. I took an exact line into the goal cylinder, whilst Idris drifted slightly to the right; Idris came up to me later to announce with a big sporting smile that I had beaten him by 1 second!

Fridays task didn’t happen because the forecasted high winds never really materialised, but then neither did the thermals. After a succession of wind dummies being thrown off the hill in search of lift, they only got a sled ride to the bottom landing field, the decision was made in the late afternoon to can the day. At which point 150 competitors flew off into conditions that improved in minutes; most people not only stayed up but like me topped out at over 3000m! A large number of pilots then went on to fly the course, how frustrating!

The final day of the competition on Saturday turned out to be a cracker! A 75 km race to goal with some long legs again with multiple route choices. A favourite with most of the pilots was the crossing to the mountain ridge across the lake called the Morgan. Again I was well placed at the start, pretty well top of the stack as I crossed the 2km virtual start line 6 seconds into the race. Then I made a real schoolboy error by turning back to the ridge instead of taking the 400m turnpoint. As I headed for the ridge, I quickly realised my mistake, but lost 500m each way and giving everyone in the field a head start. From this point on I never flew at less than 3/4 bar, except to climb and unbelievably I never had a single collapse – this is what its like to fly an EN B wing that has a glide to match EN Ds at its top speed. Having clawed my way back through the field I had the same final turnpoint and goal as two days ago, so I felt confident to race the three serial wings that I had been chasing down. I left the ridge early and made the turnpoint with enough height for a down wind glide to goal or so I thought. It was actually really sinky after the turnpoint and on further inspection explained why there were gliders dotted on the ground short of the 400m goal cylinder. I kept my nerve taking a concentrated glide over a small hill between trees that just fitted the wingspan of the MENTOR 2, a higher aspect and I’d have been in them! Looking at my instrument it was reading 480, 470, 460 metres……. I was flying down wind over grass, then a fence loomed up. With my last little bit of height I managed to squeeze over the fence landing some 20 metres inside the goal cylinder. I’ve never been so happy to hear the beep, beep ,beep of the instrument confirming that I had made the goal. Again the MENTOR 2 had brought me in 1st in the Sports class, which gave us an overall win in the comp for this class…..on an EN B.

This competition was genuinely one of the most enjoyable that I had raced in, the serial concept is a winner as it maintains close racing and levels the field. In my opinion, we should stay like this through 2012 in Cat 2 comps – and if the TRITON 2 is as good as MENTOR 2 and FACTOR 2 I really can’t wait :)

Cheers Steve

results –

photo by Emile Van Wyk