Stena Cup: France victorious in Olympic Womens Match Race run up

Nicky Souter (AUS) v Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) , womens event, Stena Cup, Sweden.
© Chris Davies/AWMRT

French Women’s match racing star Claire Leroy scored a crucial win in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics with victory in the at the Stena Match Cup Sweden today. The world number two put on a downwind masterclass to come from behind in the last race of the final to snatch victory over American rival Anna Tunnicliffe.

The Elliott 6m hulls used for the womens match racing. Photo: Chris Davies/WMRT
© Chris Davies/AWMRT
The Womens event started yesterday, Marstrand, Sweden. It features seven of the top ranked Women Match Racing crews from the just concluded ISAF World Sailing Cup. They are competing ahead of next month's Pre-Olympics, in Weymouth and the Olympic Qualification event in Perth in December. The event is conducted in the same Elliott 6 one design yachts used in the Olympics.

In an incredibly tight first race it looked like Tunnicliffe (USA) Team Tunnicliffe had secured the victory as she led towards the finish line but a poor gybe from the Olympic gold medallist allowed Leroy (FRA) Mermaid Sailing Team back into the frame and thanks to some slick manoeuvring from the French team Leroy slid past Tunnicliffe just metres from the line. Leroy repaid the favour to Tunnicliffe, picking up a penalty after by hitting the start line marker buoy despite a comfortable lead at the start of match two.

With Tunnicliffe back in the game she soon found her stride, passing Leroy upwind then defending well down to mark two. But it was Leroy who had the advantage through the gybing duel that ensued and by the bottom mark the lead was France’s once more. Leroy was ahead but still carrying the penalty with Tunnicliffe hot on her heals she sailed into a wind hole on the fickle racecourse and Tunnicliffe lunged across the line to win by one boat length to even the scores.

As the breeze died in Marstrand Fjord in the early evening light it was one a-piece in the final – and it was the same in the petit final after world number one Lucy Macgregor (GBR) Match Race Girls opened the scoring followed by a win for Ekaterina Skudina (RUS) Yacht Russia. With the third race abandoned in both competitions it looked like the final four positions would be decided on countback. But just as it seemed all hope was lost a puff of breeze came though the fjord and racing resumed in shortened sudden death format.

Leroy picked up a penalty early on in the decider for trying to cross Tunnicliffe but tacking too late. The American led around the first mark by two boat lengths but Leroy pulled out some more downwind magic to roll Tunnicliffe again. Halfway to the third mark Leroy decided to shake her penalty but no sooner had she done so did she pick up another for impeding Tunnicliffe forcing her to take the penalty.

The Elliott 6m hulls used for the womens match racing. Photo: Chris Davies/WMRT
© Chris Davies/AWMRT

On the final leg Leroy took advantage of sloppy spinnaker work from Tunnicliffe and squeezed just enough boat speed out of the Elliott 6m yacht to sneak past and head for the finish line and victory. It’s an important win for the French team in their preparations for the London 2012 Olypimcs, which will also be sailed in Elliott 6ms.

In the petit final Macgregor had a perfect start and held all the cards as the pair raced to the first mark but Skudina took advantage of better boat speed on the downwind leg passing Macgregor and establishing the lead. A close run to the finish line saw Skudina defend her lead well to take the final podium position.