Koos de Ronde produced an excellent performance late on Monday evening to win the FEI World Cup™ Driving at the Nekkerhal in Mechelen, Belgium for the fifth time in his career. Sweden’s Fredrik Persson drove with enormous skill to finish second ahead of Germany’s Georg von Stein whose team is finally coming together. Top favourite, Boyd Exell from Australia, knocked four balls down to line up in sixth place.
De Ronde was the last man to compete in the Winning Round, in which the Top Three drivers started from scratch for the first time. He felt the pressure after Fredrik Persson had driven a clear round to beat De Ronde’s time of the first round by two seconds. The team gold medallist of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy decided to go for it and drove at full risk. He knew exactly where he was able to make up some time and drove his team fast, fluently and faultlessly through the course, cheered by the many enthusiastic spectators in Mechelen who created a fantastic atmosphere.
De Ronde, who also topped the line-up at the Belgian fixture in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012, finished four seconds faster than Persson. He started with a wild card, and therefore did not earn World Cup points, but with one more leg to go in Leipzig, he is lying fifth in the standings and it seems very likely that he will be amongst the Top Six drivers for the Final.
Top Three Plan
Another brilliant round was put down by Fredrik Persson. The driving teacher at the National Equestrian school in Flyinge, Sweden grew in the competition with his team of older horses who worked together in perfect harmony. After some hiccups on the first day, and one ball in the first round, Persson took full advantage of the new system and put the pressure on De Ronde by driving a fast and clear Winning Round, which took place over the same course.
Perssons’s goal was a place in the top three in Mechelen to secure his starting ticket for the Final in Bordeaux, and his plan worked. Because de Ronde was competing on a wild card, Persson picked up ten points and is now lying second in the standings.
Happy Man In Mechelen
Georg von Stein was a very happy man in Mechelen. He was second to go in the first round and drove clear but not very fast. He had not expected to qualify for the Winning Round, but after his compatriot, Christoph Sandmann, had one knock-down, Theo Timmerman (NED) collected two faults and Boyd Exell left the arena with an uncharacteristic 20 penalty seconds, Von Stein was back in the game.
His four-in-hand with two new leader horses, which he has been driving since the start of this season, did a great job and Georg could drive them at high speed through the course. The experience they gained at the previous competitions is paying off. Unfortunately Georg made one mistake himself and one horse hit a ball, which resulted in third place. Georg was nevertheless a very happy man in Mechelen.
Five-time FEI World Cup Driving™ champion, Boyd Exell, who has been busy moving his horses and his home to Valkenswaard in the Netherlands in the past days, was unable to focus as he normally would and finished sixth in Mechelen after knocking down four balls.
World Cup Debut
It was the first time that Dutch international Level 4 Course Designer Jeroen Houterman designed the course in Mechelen and the drivers were all very pleased with his track, which included several cones gates, a bridge and three marathon-type obstacles.
After the first day, some small changes were made to make the course even more fluent and this worked very well. The course was nice to watch for the spectators. Houterman himself was happy as well: “I will always keep learning, there are always small things to improve, but I am very pleased.”
The new format in which the Top Three drivers start from scratch in the Winning Round was a huge success. This option was introduced into the FEI World Cup™ Driving rules this year and it was the first time that an organiser made use of it. It offered an equal opportunity for all three drivers, which resulted in a very exciting competition that was much appreciated by the fantastic crowd in Mechelen.
Koos de Ronde (NED): “I decided to go for it and drove at full risk. Everything came together and it was fantastic. This is the best way to win; being the last man in and then drive clear! The good feeling I had with this team in Budapest was back again after my somewhat disappointing results in London Olympia, and I am ready for the Final now!’
Fredrik Persson (SWE): “I was second to go in and I knew that Georg had two knockdowns. I wanted to go for it, but I wanted to drive clean as well. The feeling of my horses was so good, they developed throughout the competition. They went so much easier than on the first day. I am so happy with them and with the team of people that are with me, it make me feel very confident.”
Georg von Stein (GER): “My two new leader horses have really proven themselves in Mechelen. They have showed that they have a lot of quality in them, they are so fast. I am so pleased with my results in Mechelen, I don’t actually care that I won’t be in the Final. My horses gave me much satisfaction and next season they will be even better!”
Results FEI World Cup™ Driving, Mechelen (BEL), 30 December 2014:
Koos de Ronde (NED) 115,65
Fredrik Persson (SWE) 119,68
Georg von Stein (GER) 138,05
Christoph Sandmann (GER) 132,60
Theo Timmerman (NED) 136,16
Boyd Exell (AUS) 136,89
Glenn Geerts (BEL) 143,52
Results in detail can be viewed here
FEI World Cup™ Driving, standings after 6 of 7 events:
1 Boyd EXELL AUS 30
2 Fredrik PERSSON SWE 24
IJsbrand CHARDON NED 24
4 Christoph SANDMANN GER 17
5 Koos DE RONDE NED 15
6 Georg VON STEIN GER 13
Jozsef DOBROVITZ HUN 13
8 Glenn GEERTS BEL 10
9 Theo TIMMERMAN NED 7
10 Werner ULRICH SUI 5