|World Outdoor Trials Championship Round 8
Breal Sous Monfort, France
Lampkin Takes Big Step Towards Seventh Title
Montesa HRC riders Dougie Lampkin and Takahisa Fujinami once again shared the victories, this time at the French round, but the British rider took an important step towards securing his seventh title as Raga demoted his Japanese rival to third place on the second day of the trial. Lampkin's 2-1 result against Fujinami's 1-3 finishes opens up a ten-point lead for the reigning champion with just one round remaining. Whilst Raga climbed on to the podium both days, Montesa HRC rider Freixa had one of his worst weekends going 5-6 over the two days.
The world trials circus made the long tour north from last week's Italian round, up through France ready for this weekend's event near Rennes, which sits just inland from the French north-west coast. The French venue was located on low ground close to the sea, on the outskirts of the small town of Breal sous Monfort in a dedicated trials park that has established itself over the last decade as a truly international venue since world trials last visited back in 1994. The organisation and course preparation were second to none, although the sections of the compact course were lacking in variety, the majority featuring large dry rocks.
The tension between Lampkin and Fujinami as they continued their title fight was clear to see and played a large part in their relatively poor performances during the opening sections of Saturday's competition. The two Montesa HRC riders were looking stiff and tense aboard their factory machines, although they did manage to fashion a clean piece on the first hazard of the day, which was seen as an easy opener for them.
Raga stole the limelight in section two as he recorded the only feet up ride in this zone on the first lap, a feat only matched by Cabestany, Freixa and Lampkin during the final lap. Lampkin's first lap attempt was poor by his own high standards, a scrappy three being far less than expected from the reigning champion. Fujinami sensed his opportunity and got within metres of the end cards having only dropped a single dab, but received a five when he ran over the one minute and thirty second time limit.
Lampkin's ride in the next hazard was still far from convincing, his first dab of two was definitely needed as he literally dragged his bike to the top of the first summit. However the British rider did take some heart as he watched Fujinami make a complete hash of this section in the initial climb, resulting in his second maximum of the day. Dougie's advantage in the dog fight was short lived as he emulated his teammate with an equally poor ride in section five, and onlookers could hardly believe their eyes as the championship leader fell back off the relatively easy first double step. Fujinami drew level with Lampkin by posting a clean, although his display was also far from his best.
Continuing his theme of maximums, Takahisa put Lampkin back in the driving seat as the Japanese got nowhere near the large opening step in the seventh hazard, much to his and his team's disgust. Though the Montesa HRC pairing avoided any more maximums for the remainder of the lap, their individual and respective performances were far from impressive. Incredibly, however, they still headed the field after fifteen sections, with Lampkin holding a slim lead over Fujinami who was tied with Manzano at this stage. Their amazed reactions revealed how fortunate they felt not to have been punished after a poor morning's work.
Fujinami and Lampkin remained locked in battle for the first third of the second lap, with literally nothing to split the dominant duo, but then Dougie's challenge was rocked by a disastrous run through the middle five hazards. His score of 2-2-5-0-5 was enough to quickly write off any chance of victory while Fujinami managed to increase his standard to eventually post the best lap of the competition.
Knowing the size of his advantage, Fujinami allowed his riding to become more expressive, and his resulting rides through the final sections were the best of the day by any rider. In contrast Lampkin, close to being overtaken by Raga, Cabestany and Freixa, adopted a defensive policy and worked his way home to secure second place. Anything less than a runner-up berth today would have been a real disaster for Lampkin. The Japanese title challenger was a worthy winner by the end of the day, while Lampkin had done enough to deserve second spot ahead of Raga, Cabestany and Freixa. Those three were only separated by a single mark after thirty extremely testing hazards designed by French ex-world championship rider Bruno Camozzi.
Aware that the only way to snatch the title from Lampkin was by beating him in the remaining trials, Fujinami knew just how important today's victory was for his overall chance of taking the championship. "After Italy I was pleased to arrive here only eight points behind Dougie. We both rode very badly in the first sections and didn't really deserve to be at the top after the first lap. On the second lap I relaxed a bit more especially after I saw Dougie make his mistakes. I rode well during the final lap, my score clearly shows this. To win is very important, as there are only three trials remaining and I still have ground to make up, so I will be looking to do the same tomorrow so everything is ready for the final round in Spain."
Disappointed and slightly dejected, Lampkin sportingly was the first to congratulate his teammate and made no excuse in the post trial press conference. "It's been a strange day, both Fuji and I started very badly, but we then recovered later in the lap. To be perfectly honest I was surprised to be leading at the end of the lap, I knew I was just in front of Fuji, but I was sure that someone would have ridden better than we did this morning. I started the second lap quite well and although I was under pressure I felt quite confident about my riding, but at sections six, seven, eight and ten it all went horribly wrong. I knew after this bad patch I had no chance of winning, so securing second place became my priority. It was a damage limitation exercise come the end. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day."
After a poor showing in Italy Raga was slightly surprised to have arrived on the podium after what he thought had been a bad day. "I find it incredible that I finished third today as I have ridden very badly, but I must have been one of the best of the bad riders today! My start position at the front of the group didn't help, but that is not the whole problem today, as I too must accept some blame. I am happy with the result, but not my performance, hopefully I can ride better tomorrow and achieve an even better result."
For the first time this season no overnight changes were needed, with the course design near perfect and the severity somewhere near the right level, so the riders were faced on day two by the same challenge as the day before. After the easy opening section had helped settle the nerves the top riders arrived at the second hazard, probably the toughest of the day. Having watched Raga match his superb clean of yesterday, Lampkin absorbed the pressure perfectly to deliver an equally brilliant ride, leaving Fujinami to really feel the heat, the Japanese rider needing a hefty prod to push his way to the exit cards.
Whilst Raga and Lampkin matched each other, losing only a dab each in the first five sections, Fujinami was suffering in the tense atmosphere and added five to his score at the fourth hazard. Lampkin stamped his authority on the trial in the next three quarry sections, which the previous afternoon had been his downfall, and his clean one run through these zones established him as the clear leader. Out in front, Dougie now took control with some safe and calculated riding that would see him ten marks clear of Cabestany at the end of the first lap. Raga held third spot at this time on seventeen, with Fujinami and Jarvis in equal fourth on nineteen marks apiece.
Only a disaster could prevent Lampkin winning, and with him in a relaxed and confident mood this was not about to happen. The focus shifted to who was going to follow him home. Normally competing with Lampkin, Fujinami now found himself locked in battle with Raga as the pair produced some of the best riding of the trial to post the two best lap scores of the event. The large crowd were enthralled as the fight went right to the last hazard, with Raga hanging on to the runner-up spot by a single point. Fujinami was far from happy with his third position, and was immediately aware of the damage done to his title chances. Cabestany and Jarvis completed the top five, with Freixa finishing a distant sixth.
The relief was etched on Lampkin's face as he explained his day. "After yesterday it was important not to allow Fujinami to draw any closer to me in the championship. Although I felt confident this morning, I was aware that the scores would be a lot lower today so that alone brought its own pressure. I started well and my clean in section two was very important. When the news that Fujinami had fived section four reached me I then knew that I had a gap from which I could attack. My first lap was near perfect, I could even afford to take some safe marks to ensure that I maintained a good lead. The second lap was a slightly different story as I was merely trying to protect my lead. I made a mistake in section thirteen but this did not matter, and to have Raga finish second was more than I could have hoped for this morning. The championship is not over, but to go to the last round with a ten point lead is better than going there with none."
Although returning to the podium for the second day running, Raga had mixed thoughts about what he had achieved this weekend. "I am very happy with my results, but not with the way that I am riding in general. The second lap I rode very well today, but that is about it this weekend. I know that I must begin to raise my level if I am to win, there are only two more opportunities this season so I will be working hard in the month off before the final round in September. At least these results have given me some chance of catching Jarvis for fourth in the championship, but realistically I know this is going to be difficult."
Fujinami could not hide his disappointment, after having achieved so much yesterday. "I don't need to tell you that it has been a bad day today. I did not have a good feeling about myself this morning, I felt some pressure, but not really big pressure, but my condition was not helping my riding. I rode too slow and with poor reactions, this resulted in many errors. The second lap was completely different and I felt and rode well, but it was too late to stop Lampkin and not enough to prevent Raga also finishing ahead of me. It will be difficult to beat Lampkin now, he has a ten-point lead with just one round remaining. But I will not stop pushing as I believe I can still be world champion."
|World Outdoor Trials Championship Round 8
Breal Sous Monfort, France