The Championnats de France de NEV (nage en eau vive, or hydrospeed), took place at the Complexe des Eaux-Vives de Châteauneuf-Sur-Cher over the weekend, a new modern whitewater slalom park nestled at the base of a historic church and castle.
This theme of consistency in the midst of change would weave its way through the competition as well, with 3 former champions being dethroned, but all 3 still making the podium.
The event took place on Saturday and Sunday – one day for practice and one day for racing. What made the race unique from an outsider’s perspective was the fact that on Saturday, there were no gates placed exactly where they’d be during the race.
So in order to practice, racers visualized all the possible gate locations, and worked on their fundamentals – catching eddies, pivot turns, cross-current ferries, and even head-bobbing, which with proper technique seems to save quite a bit of time when making the turn around the gate pole.
On Sunday morning, with 2 of the 3 pumps sending water from the naturally flowing river into the manmade waterpark, the gates were positioned for the race.
However, practice laps were not allowed, meaning that the racers had to visualize their lines and then draw on their time spent in the current the previous day in order to run the course clean on their first of two runs.
The race itself was standard Slalom format, with 2 runs and the times added together for an overall time. Penalties for touching a gate were 2 seconds, and for missing a gate 50 seconds.
THE COVETED JACKET
Elite and Junior category racers are awarded white jackets emblazoned with FRANCE Nage en eau Vive on the back, and similar to the Green Jacket at the Masters major golf tournament, the winners receive the jackets and are free to wear them for the next year.
It’s a symbol of victory and a message of intimidation for would-be opponents, because non only do the stark white jackets accented with red and blue look snappy and contrasted in the crowd of black rubber wetsuits, but it’s also a strong reminder to everyone of who’s the best and if you want to win, who you’ll need to defeat.
On this weekend, though, the hours leading up to their races would be the last that the 2012 champs would wear those coats for at least a year…
Races started with the open category for anyone who had not qualified for the elite races, and were followed by slight changes to the gates for the youngsters, some of them as young as 8 years old and still able to make it through all the gates cleanly, which was no small feat!
At the completion of the kids competition – which saw some of the kids running better lines than their parents had run an hour earlier – the Championnats de France began in earnest.
Competitors hit the water just 1 minute apart, and while for the most part that gap proved sufficient, on several occasions faster racers caught up to slower swimmers in front of them and the slower racer gave way so as not to obstruct the faster swimmer coming in from behind.
In two cases though there was inadvertent contact and, while entertaining in boardercross, it’s not a part of slalom, and the faster racers in both cases were allowed to re-run the course just before the break.
After the more than 30+ competitors in the different categories completed their first run, they took a timing break to tally up the gates touched or missed and calculate the positions.
In the men’s elite category, despite touching a gate (2 second penalty) the 2011 Champion Bob Lataste held a narrow 3 second advantage over 2012 Champion Gaultier Lebegue.
While the two are good friends and part of the same club, their rivalry stretches back for years, from the time when Lataste was still racing in the Junior’s category but far ahead of his categorical peers and simply racing to beat Lebegue’s times on the fastest overall times list at the end of the competition.
Lataste had already beaten Lebegue in a previous race this year, and so the pressure was on the defending champion to retain his crown.
With less than 3 seconds separating them and the overall results being calculated from the sum of their times from both runs, Lebegue knew he had to run an extremely fast race to make up the difference.
And fast he was, kicking his way strongly through the course and making the turns quickly and smoothly. At the finish he was exhausted and with a smile said simply “I went as fast as I could go – if he wins now, he wins.”
Lataste also ran a typically solid race which had spectators commenting that he’d looked a bit faster on the second half of the course than had Lebegue.
But with a number of racers still set to go, and Lataste needing to catch a train for Paris to make another connection and return to his responsibilities as a Navy diver, there was no time to wait and see what the results would be.
In the end, the two rivals proved to be much closer than previously thought, with Lebegue’s “fast as I could go” time edging Lataste in the second run by a fraction of a second. But with the 3 second differential from the first run, a fraction of a second was not enough make up the time and a new French Slalom Champion was crowned, as Bob Lataste won his second championship in 3 years.
Coming in third was Tristan Guyard, who after winning the junior age group championship in 2012, this year moved up into the elite category to race with the best of the best.
A new up-and-coming youngster named Remi replaced him as junior category champion, and a new champion landed at the top of the podium in the women’s elite category as well.
More commentary from Josh on his experiences, and a video recap to follow.
Check out the 2013 French Slalom Championship photo gallery or the Complexe des Eaux-Vives de Châteauneuf-Sur-Cher facebook page if you want more right now. =)