Aachen (GER)- "It is not time for euphoria yet!" the French Chef d'Equipe, Philippe Guerdat, said calmly. After the first round in the Mercedes-Benz Prize, the team classification at the FEI European Championships of the show-jumpers in Aachen 2015, his team is currently in the lead. Three of his four team riders jumped clear, the fourth was the scratch result. "I said from the very beginning that four or five teams will be battling it out for the title and it was obvious that we will be among them." In 2011, the French team came second at the European Championships in Madrid. They have never won the Championships title before.
In total, the French team had clocked up 5.7 penalty points after the first competition, the speed competition, which was also the first round of the team classification. They are followed by the titleholders of 2007, the Dutch team, in second place with 7.82 penalty points. "We had hoped to climb up the rankings today," admitted the Olympic gold medallist of 2000, Jeroen Dubbeldam. "But I didn't think we'd jump up from 5th place into 2nd.“ Three of the Oranje riders also jumped clear. After the first team round, Germany's team slipped down to third place after leading the field after the speed competition. "Everyone put in a good round," explained the German national trainer, Otto Becker. Whereas Ludger Beerbaum with Chiara and Daniel Deußer with Cornet d’Amour delivered the hoped-for clear rounds, both Christian Ahlmann with Taloubet and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum with Fibonacci notched up four faults each. "Fibonacci jumped brilliantly and made an annoying mistake at the water," explained Becker. "And Christian just slightly brushed a pole. It was a shame."
The British veteran rider, Michael Whitaker, seemed slightly amazed. His team is lying in fourth place at the moment. "We actually only came here to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio," the 55-year-old explained. "But now we are on course to win a medal." Of all people, Whitaker, who is taking part in his 14th European Championships here in Aachen, stressed how much pressure is on the riders: "I wasn't nervous, but I did feel the pressure before my ride. And that is the same for all of the riders here." The national coach of the Belgian team, Dirk Demeersman, was disappointed: "Our aim was to qualify for Rio here in Aachen. But we haven't succeeded in doing so." Only the ten best of the 22 teams qualify for the second round of the team classification tomorrow, finishing eleventh the Belgians will not be among them. As such, they don't have another chance to claim one of the three Olympic tickets that are still up for grabs.
The best rider of the French team, the current leaders, Penelope Leprevost, is heading the field of the European Championships individual classification. The 35-year-old won the first competition, the speed jumping with Flora de Mariposa and also jumped clear in the first round of the team competition. Leprevost also competed on the French team at the World Equestrian Games in 2010 and 2014 and brought team silver home on both occasions. Ludger Beerbaum currently lies second in the individual classification with Chiara, followed by the British rider Joe Clee with Utamaro d’Ecaussines.
They are all agree on one point. The course in tomorrow's second round of the Mercedes-Benz Prize will be even more difficult. "I often competed myself here with the team in the Nations' Cup in the past," stressed Guerdat. "I have already seen a lot of Nations' Cup courses that were more difficult than todays. But tomorrow it will no double be more difficult and the time will also play a role."
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