ENDURANCE will be firmly in the spotlight at Aachen as the opening contest of the Games. And the first competition of 2006 will get off to an early start with riders setting off on their 160km journey before dawn from the mass start at the show grounds at Aachen Soers. Approximately 12 hours later, tens of thousands of spectators are expected to watch the riders crossing the finishing line in Stadium 1 of the ALRV show grounds.
Organisers of the endurance event, which uniquely in the history of the sport’s championship events covers a route zig-zagging between three countries, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands, believe that this will be the most competitive world championship ever held.
Carol Bunting (GBR) Technical Delegate said: “With more than 40 countries taking part, this will be an interesting and strong contest. The route is similar to Compiègne (host of the 2000 FEI World Endurance Championship) in that it is very deceptive. Everyone is saying Aachen is going to be easy but it is not. People looking at a map might think it looks very flat but it rises and falls gradually and there are some climbs. It’s going to be a very testing course.”
“It is a thinking rider’s course. Those who think they can just go out hell for leather won’t make it on this course – riders will have to pace themselves.”
Mrs Bunting said that substantial changes had been made to the route and organization since the first trial run three years ago.
“Because the route is coming out of a city and covers a very densely populated area, there has been a lot of work by route organiser Klaus Gulden (GER) and vetgate manager Johan van den Brande (BEL) to open up new tracks. The local farmers have all been very helpful and have cut their harvest early so that we can take the ride over their land. We have managed to get the amount of road work to under 10 per cent of the route and given that we had to take the ride from the city and back into the city, this was difficult to achieve.”
Ride organisers have faced the challenge of managing the event in the midst of a heavily crowded tourist region in the peak of season. In addition to the constraints placed on the participating countries in terms of the number of riders who can take part – five per country instead of six, the level of crewing on the 160km route will be restricted to just one crew car per rider. On each loop there will be just one or two crew points with the rest of the stops being water points supervised by the ride stewards. A separate crew will be needed for each rider at the vetgate at Vaals, a major tourist centre.
“Any rider or team who breaks this rule will be severely penalized. Keeping traffic down has been a major challenge for organisers and it was felt that this was the only way to keep it down,” said Carol Bunting.
Given the heatwave that has seen temperatures across Europe reach more than 40 degrees so far this summer, organisers are also laying contingencies for staging the endurance event in extreme heat. Orders have been placed for ice and cooling equipment and there will be close liaison between vets, ride officials and the chefs d’equipes of participating nations both in the days and hours before the ride and on the day of the event itself when it is possible that adjustments could be made to vet gate hold times.
Mrs Bunting, who has visited Aachen 10 times in the past three years in the build up to the event will hand over responsibility for the ride to the ground jury an hour before the first horse inspection. Ruth Carlson (CAN) will head up the officials as president of the ground jury. Dr Kieran O’Brien (IRL) will lead an impressive line-up of the world’s leading endurance veterinarians as President of the Veterinary Commission. Franz Artz (NED) will be the Foreign Veterinary Delegate at the competition. Mrs Bunting praised the efforts of the Aachen team in staging what looks set to be the biggest endurance championship in the sport’s history.
She said, “The organizing committee has been absolutely unbelievable and the discipline manager Birgit Albersmeier, second to none. Birgit was a show jumping specialist and knew very little about endurance before she got involved – now she could write a book.”
The route: The going, given the heatwave across Europe this summer, is expected to be very hard underfoot in places with the best section of ground over the final 16km loop.
First loop: 28Km Yellow route – vetgate Vaals. After heading out from the venue at Soers through the suburbs of Aachen, the route circles north of the city. The route is very twisty and technical. The track crosses the border into The Netherlands near the village of Mamelis and climbs to the highest point in The Netherlands, the scenic beauty spot of Vaals which will be the vetgate for the first three stages (Yellow/Red and Blue loops). The vetgate at Vaals will see much of the decisive action in the race as riders have the tough challenge of descending from this high point and climbing back up again to the vetgate on loops two to four.
Second loop: 27km Red route – vetgate Vaals. The riders head out south west from the vetgate at Vaals crossing immediately into Belgium for a few kilometers. This heavily wooded route takes them first over the northern tip of the Preuss Wald. After a short distance they cross back into Germany and circle the famous Aachener Wald forest which skirts the southern tip of the city of Aachen. Riders will see their crews twice on this section at road crossings near Ronheide and Kopfchen.
Third loop: 33km Blue Route – vetgate Vaals. The longest loop of the day is likely to be underway for riders in the middle of the field as the hottest part of the day approaches. This Belgian section of the route takes riders across the wooded Preuss Wald towards the small town of Kelmis (La Calamine). The first of two crew points on this section is in the forest close to the village of Chapelle. The route then winds out into the Belgian countryside taking riders south through the village of Montzen where there is a water point. Riders next see their crews shortly after the village of Plombieres as they wind back to the vetgate at Vaals. There is some road work on this route crosses and recrosses the N608 in the approach to the vetgate. Back up into the hills, the track follows the border between Belgium and The Netherlands for approximately 10km.
Fourth loop: 27km Red route – vetgate Vaals. Riders retrace their steps through the Aachener Wald. The familiarly with this section could help many horses at this stage, especially those that are traveling alone.
Fifth loop: 28km Green route – vetgate Soers/Aachen. The green loop runs back alongside the first yellow route. The early part of the section is twisting and wooded before riders break out into open countryside. There are two crew points on this route, the first in the middle of Holsetterbos in The Netherlands. Riders then begin their descent towards the German border and circle north of Aachen. Their crews will be waiting for them at the point where the route passes back under the main A76 road before riders return to the venue on the northern edge of Aachen.
Sixth loop: 16km Orange route – vetgate Soers/Aachen. Undoubtedly the nicest section of the 160km route, this takes riders over the track for the three-day eventing competition. The going will be good here and this final loop could prove decisive with those front-runners whose horses have conserved their energy ready for a fast sprint for the line. For riders in the middle and end of the ride this will also be an exciting finale to the competition with team placings being decided in many cases by the finishing position of the second and third placed riders.
The record holders/past and future
There will be four riders per team with the best three scores to count based upon the time taken to complete the course. A glance at the record books would suggest this will be one of the most competitive World Championship endurance events staged in recent times. The French squad who have regrouped following the sad death last year of their successful chef d’equipe Pierre Cazes, will be looking to repeat their victory at the last FEI World Equestrian Games in Jerez. Now led by Jean-Louis Leclerc, while their line up does not include reigning world champion Barbara Lissarague, several well known names including Virginie Atger, Phillippe Tomas, Cecile Miletto and Philippe Benoit, will be working hard to secure the title. Italy, current world champions should present a strong challenge. Australia have a good record of traveling well and enjoying success in Europe and took the world championship title at Compiegne, France in 2000. Members of that gold medal winning team, including Peter and Penny Toft and Meg Wade will feature in a strong line up.
The UAE, yet to win a team world championship, will be looking to build upon Iîndividual successes in recent years. Sheikh Mohammed has listed reigning world champion Georgat, whom he purchased from French rider Barbara Lissarague, as his possible ride.
Belgium, winners of last year’s European team and individual titles led home by Kristel Van Den Abeele, with Chanice du Tilleul, will be among the favourites for top medals. Kristel has a new ride for the championships, Ismael du Florival. The Netherlands, again on home territory will be hoping to build upon their bronze medal at the FEI European Championships at Punchestown in 2003. Hosts Germany, with chef d’equipe Roy Thiele at the helm will be looking to put their squad’s name in lights by securing a place for their country on the medal table for the first time. Melanie Arnold and Belinda Hitzler at among the strong contenders. Switzerland, whose riders performed well at the European Championship, will be looking for a repeat and could be in with a chance of a medal. The USA, which has an impeccable team and individual record going back to the early world championships will be led this year by double world champion Valerie Kanavy who takes on the role of chef d’equipe for the first time. Great Britain, which won gold at the first world championships and the first World Equestrian Games in Stockholm, will be in the hunt for a return to form.
Past World Champions in Endurance (individual):
1986 Pratoni del Vivaro: Cassandra Schuler on Skikos Omar (USA)
1988 Front Royal: Becky Hart on R.D. Gran Sultan (USA)
1990 (WEG) Stockholm: Becky Hart on R.D. Gran Sultan (USA)
1992: Barcelona: Becky Hart on R.D. Gran Sultan (USA)
1994 (WEG) The Hague: Valerie Kanavy on Pieraz (USA)
1996 Fort Riley: Danielle Kanavy on Pieraz (USA)
1998 (WEG) Dubai/Abu Dhabi: Valerie Kanavy on High Winds Jedi (USA)
2000: Compiegne: Maya Killa Perringerard on Varoussa (FRA)
2002 (WEG) Jerez: Sheikh Ahmed Bin Mohd Al Maktoum on Bowman (UAE)
2004 Dubai: Barbara Lissarague on Georgat (FRA)
Past World Champions in Endurance (team):