Sunday, October 14, 2007

Björn Hansen and Mathieu Richard to meet for Bermuda Gold Cup

[Source: World Match Racing Tour] Björn Hansen of Sweden will meet Frenchman Mathieu Richard in tomorrow’s final of the $100,000 King Edward VII Gold Cup after each won their semifinal match 3-0 in racing here today.

Richard, the world’s No. 2-ranked match racer, manhandled Ed Baird of the U.S., winning with calm and ease. Hansen, ranked No. 6, took down local favorite Blythe Walker. Tomorrow’s final between Hansen and Richard means that for the third consecutive year the Gold Cup champion will be a first-time winner.

Richard’s dismantling of Baird was surprising for its seeming ease. Baird is a three-time match racing world champion and helmed Alinghi to victory in the 32nd America’s Cup in July. Throughout the week Baird, 48, had referenced the adage, “Age and treachery will overcome youthful enthusiasm every time.” Not today.

“It’s a great win, we’re very happy,” said Richard, 31. “We were very motivated this morning and had a good fighting spirit because we wanted to get to the final.”

Richard won yesterday’s quarterfinal match over Glenn Astwood also by 3-0, but felt that he had to increase his aggression today against Baird.

“Yesterday we sailed conservatively enough to get to the semifinals, but we had to be more aggressive with our tactics against Baird,” said the Frenchman. “We had to take risks with our tactics and sail the wind rather than the opponent.”

Richard led the first race at the first windward mark by less than one boatlength. Baird, however, passed him near the leeward mark when he crossed ahead on starboard. Richard then pulled his riskiest move of the day. He rounded between Baird and the mark when there was essentially nowhere to go.

“There was maybe 10 centimeters to the left and 10 to the right,” said Richard. “It was a risky move. Maybe we got lucky without a penalty call.”

Baird said, “We sailed into one of those vacuums and he didn’t.”

Richard regained the lead about halfway up the leg when he crossed Baird by about two boatlengths, and the match was hardly close again. Richard won the last race by nearly half a leg.

“You see a puff on the water and go for it. If you get it first, you’re off,” said Baird. “We just didn’t get it first today.”

Hansen and Walker provided endless entertainment in their match, shouting at each other and screaming “Foul!” to the umpires. Hansen won the first two races despite being penalized in each.

In Race 1 both competitors received pre-start penalties. The umpires gave Walker a red flag penalty, meaning he had to do his 270-degree turn immediately after starting. But they also penalized Hansen for hitting the pin end, which, Hansen said, was the result of Walker hitting him.

Still carrying the penalty and leading to the finish, Hansen worked to set a trap for Walker in the hope of offsetting his penalty. Plan achieved. Hansen was luffing outside the committee boat end, close aboard. He was hoping to get Walker to try and go over the top so that he could luff him. Instead, Walker tried going between the two boats. Walker wound up hitting Hansen hard in the stern quarter and, with the penalties offset, Hansen crossed the line for the win.

In Race 2 Hansen received another pre-start penalty. The accompanying red flag made him do the turn after starting. But he sailed to the left side of the course, found a big lift with pressure on port, and was back in the race. Walker led around the mark but Hansen rolled him on the run to the leeward mark and then remained in the lead.

Walker was over early in Race 3 which gave Hansen control. Walker was right on his transom halfway through the race, but Hansen reestablished a cushion that Walker wouldn’t be able to overcome.

Hansen now is in the final having won 13 of his last 14 races. It’s a bit more amazing considering that his primary tactician, Thomas Hallberg, left the island at the beginning of the week due to ill health. Hansen picked up local Will Thompson to join regulars Martin Stromberg and Johan Tempelman, and now the crew is jelling at the right time.

“I didn’t think we’d get to the final when the week started and Thomas had to go home,” said Hansen. “But Will is fitting in well.”

In consolation racing today, Paolo Cian of Italy captured 5th, Johnie Berntsson of Sweden was 6th, Brian Angel of the U.S. 7th, and Glenn Astwood of Bermuda 8th.



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