Flying Dutchman Koos de Ronde drove two impeccable clear rounds in the thrilling final competition of the FEI World Cup Driving Final in the fully packed arena in Bordeaux on Saturday night to become the new champion.
After four years on top, Australian driver Boyd Exell’s dominance has come to an end. He finished second, ahead of IJsbrand Chardon (NED) in third.
The final on Saturday night was very exciting and the suspense lasted until the very end. International O-course designer Gábor Fintha (HUN) had laid out a demanding and fast course, which was great to watch for the spectators. It included a technical obstacle and a speed obstacle, inviting the drivers to go fast but to remain careful. It was Fintha’s first FEI World Cup Driving Final as a course designer and he was very proud of the opportunity to design a course for the world’s best drivers.
The drivers had carried forward 50% of the score differential in seconds between them and the winner in the first competition – Boyd Exell – which resulted in a tight line-up.
Ijsbrand Chardon managed to get the speed back in his team of Lipizzaner horses and recorded a very good time which, despite one knockdown, guaranteed him a place in the Winning Round. Koos de Ronde was 3.12 seconds behind Exell and had planned his tactics very carefully. The 36-year old driver had noticed that gate two was the bottleneck and he decided he would take advantage of this. De Ronde did not take any risks and drove a very fast and clear round finishing six seconds ahead of Chardon.
Overnight leader Exell was pushing his horses for speed and made a mistake in the dangerous second gate where he deliberately drove on the inside to stay clear and knocked a ball down. Cheered by the enthusiastic spectators, he finished just 0,99 seconds behind De Ronde and was second to go in the Winning Round.
IJsbrand Chardon is always going for victory, but he already knew that making up six seconds on this technical course would not be possible. Chardon went too fast and knocked no less than six cones down.
The Winning Round then turned into an extremely close battle between Koos de Ronde and Boyd Exell. Exell’s horses had missed some important training because of the snow in Britain. On top of that, his truck had broken down during the 26-hour journey to Bordeaux and his horses had not had enough time to rest. Exell’s horses could not hold their curve and the lack of energy caused a ball to fall.
Koos de Ronde knew that even though he now had an advantage over Exell, he had to stay clear in order to remain in the lead. As the tension in the arena grew and the atmosphere reached an amazing level of excitement, Koos de Ronde was fully focused and applied the same tactics as in the first round managing to stay clear once more. His performances were breathlessly watched by thousands of driving fans and the relief was enormous when he crossed the finishing line two seconds ahead of Exell and took the first FEI World Cup Driving champion title in his career.
“It is just a great feeling that I finally did it! I had finished just behind Boyd so many times and it is amazing that it all came together for me here in Bordeaux,” de Ronde said. “In indoor driving, everybody can win, but the jigsaw puzzle has to fit together. I started this indoor season with the same team of horses with which I had finished third in the Final last year, but it was not working anymore. I am really pleased that I found the right shape in time so I could qualify for the Final. To win this gives me a real kick!”
De Ronde had a slow start this season with two fourth places in Hannover (GER) and in Budapest (HUN). After Budapest, he decided to make a change to his team in order to qualify for the final. At his next show in London Olympia (GBR), De Ronde put in the grey leader horse Night who had been part of his team several times during the previous indoor season. He was still not happy even though he finished third at Olympia and decided to change a wheeler horse as well. His outdoor mare Celina made her World Cup debut in Mechelen (BEL) where everything came together for the Dutch driver and his team. Unfortunately his win in Mechelen did not earn him the much-needed points since he was competing with a wild card, but it gave him his faith back in his horses. He drove the same team in Leipzig securing his ticket to the Final at the last minute.
Exell said his team tried their hardest. “but it is usually easier for them. At this level, you have to have all your ducks in a row, everything has to be spot on. I still put down the fastest time in the Winning Round. But to come second with one ball down and a difference of just two seconds to Koos is nothing to be ashamed of,” he said.
József Dobrovitz (HUN) had no luck in the final. Dobrovitz had to hold his Lipizzaner horses back a bit when a trace carrier broke down halfway through the course. The loose harness was still attached to the trace and to prevent his horses from tripping on it, he had to slow down, finishing in the fourth place.
Theo Timmerman (NED) put on a good performance but had to make up 12 seconds after the first round on Friday night, which was too much for the gold medal Dutch team member.
Wild card driver Thibault Coudry (FRA) defended his fifth place bravely, but made too many mistakes in the second half of the course and finished sixth.
Bordeaux was not Tomas Eriksson’s (SWE) competition. The double world champion and multiple Swedish champion could not find his usual fast rhythm and finished in the seventh place.
1. Koos de Ronde (NED) 244,26
2. Boyd Exell (AUS) 246,54
3. IJsbrand Chardon (NED) 284,27
4. József Dobrovitz (HUN)135,34
5. Theo Timmerman (NED) 148,78
6. Thibault Coudry (FRA) 155,50
7. Tomas Eriksson (SWE) 168,46