21 in goal after 4 days of PG Worlds 2023 in France
The first 2 days of the Paragliding World Championships in France brought us two very complicated tasks. Chamoux-sur-Gelon is located in the Isere River valley between Albertville and Grenoble. The mountain ridges surrounding the river are not high, about 700-1500 metres, but narrow and not very long, creating v-shape gaps between them that have a tendency to become real traps once you are unable to gain sufficient height above the ridge. These ridges are also repeating like ribs of the ancient mammal finding his peace by the river bed. Valley breezes, foens, rotors and low clouds add more spice to that treat. These conditions common to locals seriously challenge those used to fly in the wide valleys. Though the proficiency level of 150 pilots taking part in the competition is really high - the top 500 of the world's best ranked.
Chamoux has two home take-offs: Montendry - a small one situated on a hill right behind the town, and Montlambert - a wide grassy slope located on the mountain shoulder on the opposite side, right across the river. The scenery opening from the starts is fantastic: the silver string of the river flowing its way through the patchwork blanket knitted from vineyards, fruit trees and rye fields. Small villages adjacent to churches or castles scatted here and there. And a stone mass of the Miolans castle with its bastions and dungeons dominating the valley.
On the first day, the wind direction forced the competition to move away from Chamoux. Though the suitable launch site was not that far off - St Hillaire Sud welcomed the Championship. To start the free flight competition there was actually very meaningful. First of all, St. Hillaire is the place of the world-famous Coupe Icare - an international free flight festival held every year. South take-off is the usual place for its tandem and test flight launches. Second, it was the take-off of the 2nd FAI World Hang Gliding Class 1 and 2 Championships held in 1979. So after 44 years, St. Hillaire launched the Worlds again.
The race-to-goal task of 83 km optimised was set. The beginning of the race was shadowed by a sudden accident. Brazilian pilot - Marcella Uchoa - collapsed while flying, failing to open the reserve in proper time and fell on the slope to the right from the start. She was immediately attended by the paramedic team who called a helicopter. Luckily for the competition, its arrival schedule and moving direction had not interfered with the course of the race. So the pilots proceeded on the route.
In the first half of the task the leader was constantly changing. More experienced pilots tried to keep back and high letting younger and less careful venture forward. We watched on Flymaster live tracking how Mexican pilot Manuel Quintanilla advanced several hundred metres ahead of everyone and after was having a hard time staying in the air. While Yassen Savov BUL and Luc Armant FRA being just behind him tried to fly most conservatively gaining height in a thermal. Though it did not help them. Conditions were really tricky - after 2 hours of flying the vast majority of the pilots landed near St Pierre de Soucy.
A small group of about 30 managed to proceed on the course but soon it became smaller. A trap gap between ridges near Chapelle Blanche finally shaped the winners. Only 21 survived, and in the end, arrived to the Goal. We saw them coming at high speed on the final glide to the ESS and right after to goal - 3 French pilots + 1 from the UK - Honorin Hamard, Max Pinot and Pierre Remy with Stan Radzikowsky. Followed tightly by Martin Jovanosky from North Macedonia, Sebastian Ospina from the UK and Felix Rodriguez from Spain.
It took the winner (Honoran Hamard FRA) exactly 3h to make it to the goal. The other 18 arrived within the next 20 min. The ultimate 2 of the day Marchitan Ovidiu-Mihai ROU and Silvia Buzzi-Ferraris ITA came about half an hour later. So Silvia became the first and only Italian pilot in goal, leaving behind a lot of top-ranked pilots. Italians have a saying perfectly depicting the situation "Who goes slowly, goes far and safe" (Chi va piano va sano e va lontano) which perfectly depicts the situation. The pilots who got to the goal had a lot of patience not to make a mistake. 4 of the 21 pilots at goal on that day were women: Galen Kirkpatrick, Constance Mettetal, Keiko Hiraki and Silvia Buzzi-Ferraris.
It was a real joy, everyone was happy to see pilots in goal on day one. But, of course, the happiest were the pilots who made it.
The next day the good news arrived - Marcella's condition was stable and she was supposed to be released from hospital the next day. Her partner Rafael Barros did not fly, he stayed with her all the time. Brazilian team who now lost two of the team pilots requested and was allowed to replace Rafael with another pilot. The pilots greeted this decision, announced at the task briefing, with applause.
The weather conditions of the day were not getting good. The afternoon overdevelopment with forecasted evening thunderstorms was not letting us have a long interesting task. The task committee consisting of Luc Armant FRA, Rolf Dale NOR, and Ronny Geijsen NED could invent the only flyable solution which implied flying a back-and-forth route along the nearby ridges. A 60 km task was set. The chosen launch of Montlambert did not provide any surprises. The air start was set at 13.00 as on the previous day. The conditions were not easy at all, and again required all pilots' skills. A small group landed shortly after the second turn point but 135 proceeded further. They flew above the official landing of Chamoux, and those low went straight to it getting applause from the numerous spectators, including 300 schoolchildren. That day was dedicated to primary schools visiting the HQ and learning about the free flight concept.
But the luck was not on the competitors' side that day. When the pilots moving in a huge train from point to point got to the last third of the task, the valley breeze arrived, creating huge turbulence in the gap between the two ridges. Those who managed to climb high found themselves out of danger but the majority got caught. Numerous "level three" reports forced the Meet director, Jac Fournier, to stop the task. Everybody turned away from the forested mountain slope, where they were trying to survive, and headed towards the main landing of Chamoux. On landing the spectators were loud with joy. One could not find a more grateful audience than the kids watching the arrival of the pilots.
The winner of the day became Iranian pilot Soheil Barikani followed by Honorin Hamard FRA and Philipp Haag GER. When the task was stopped Soheil was flying 2 km ahead of everyone together with Tim Bollinger CHE. But as Tim was about 400 m lower, a smaller number of altitude bonus points did not allow him to be among the task winners of the day.
The next two days got cancelled due to enormous rain showers. On the fourth day Joel Favre, the forecast man, hoped for the sky opening in Annecy. Unfortunately, it opened too late. It was flyable but not taskable. The shuttles went off with pilots to have fun flights.
The leaders after 2 tasks are: Honorin Hamard, Maxim Pinot and Pierre Remy (all from France) in Overall: Galen Kirkpatrick USA, Constance Mettetal FRA and Keiko Hiraki JPN in Women; and France, United Kingdom and Czech Republic in Nations.
Official website https://civlcomps.org/event/pgworlds-2023
Live tracking https://lt.flymaster.net/bs.php?grp=5121#
Live video broadcast https://paraglide.webtv.live/en