Germany First To Go As 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ Gets Underway at LaBaule

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FEI TV: Follow all the action from the FEI Nations Cup™ at La Baule LIVE on FEI TV beginning at 16.20 CEST tomorrow - www.feitv.org

The German team will be first into the ring as the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ gets underway at La Baule, France tomorrow afternoon when the Dutch will have the advantage of starting last of the eight competing countries.  The draw took place today, and the running order will be as follows:

1, Germany; 2, Great Britain; 3, USA; 4, Belgium; 5, Denmark; 6, Ireland; 7, France; 8, The Netherlands.
  Fabulous weather has greeted visitors to the charming seaside town this week, and riders can look forward to excellent footing for their horses as the show-ground has undergone extensive renovation to repair the serious damage caused by a massive storm last August.  More than 50 cms of rainwater swamped the area, and the repair-work which began in September took five months to complete.  As a result of the work in the intervening period however, conditions are now better than ever, so the stage is set for a great opening round to the eight-leg top-level series.

Hopes and Expectations
The Chefs d'Equipe talked about their expectations for tomorrow's competition, and for the season which will conclude in Rotterdam (NED) in August.

Germany's Otto Becker said "we are very happy to be here even though it is not ideal to start in the No. 1 spot!  That shouldn't be a problem however because we have brought a very experienced team".  He will select his side from Marcus Ehning, Philipp Weishaupt, Thomas Muhlbauer, Carsten-Otto Nagel and Heiko Schmidt.  Great Britain's Rob Hoekstra felt likewise - "starting second isn't perfect either but our team is also very experienced" he pointed out.  He has Nick Skelton, Peter Charles, David McPherson, Robert Smith and William Funnell in his crew, and he confirmed that "Nick will be last to go".

America's George Morris explained that this will be a challenging season for the USA.  "This year we have a team with several young combinations who have little experience.  It's a long trip for our riders who stay for months in Europe during the Nations Cup series.  That is why Beezie Madden and McLain Ward have chosen to remain in the US - because there is only a year to go to the Olympic Games" he pointed out.

Philippe Guerdat, father of top Swiss rider Steve Guerdat, is managing the Belgian team which returns to the premier level of Nations Cup Jumping after some time in the shadows.  "We are back in the top league and it is a great honour to resume competition here.  We will have the exact team we brought to the World Equestrian Games except for one horse.  Our objective is to get as many points as possible over the first three legs at La Baule, Rome and St Gallen so that we can allow some of our less-experienced combinations to compete later in the season as well".

Top League Will Be Difficult
Denmark competes in the top-level FEI Nations Cup™ for the first time this season and Danish Chef d'Equipe, Achaz von Buchwaldt, said today "it will be difficult, but our riders are very motivated and they all wanted to be here.  We earned our qualification at Barcelona last year and that was a bit of a surprise - we expect it won't be easy, but we hope we can survive!"

Ireland's Robert Splaine described his selection of riders as "very experienced" and explained his country's priorities this season.  "The FEI Nations Cup is the nearest thing to Championship level, so for us the Top League will be a rehearsal for the European Championships in Madrid later in the year where our objective is to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London" he explained.

The French are defending champions, and host nation Chef d'Equipe, Henk Nooren, is in confident mood.  "Starting in seventh is great" he said today.  "Our team here is the same as in 2009 and 2010 except for Simon Delestre who was out of luck last year when his two best horses were injured.  This year he is with us however, and we will see him on several occasions on French nations' cup teams this summer".

Olympic qualification is also on the mind of Dutch team manager, Rob Ehrens.  He was very happy with the draw today.  "Starting last is perfect!" he declared.  "Our aim is to qualify the team for the Olympics with a good result in Madrid in September, and the Top League is the ideal preparation for that.  I have brought an experienced team with me, but I reckon the most difficult thing tomorrow will not be the course, but the time".

Whether his prediction is correct remains to be seen, but all will be revealed when the action gets underway tomorrow afternoon - LIVE ON FEI TV - at 16.20 CEST.

For further information on the first leg of the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ series at La Baule, consult www.labaule-cheval.com

FEI NATIONS CUP™
The FEI Nations Cup™ is a five-star competition in which official teams representing nations compare their merit. At each event the teams gain points according to their placing. At the end of the 2011 season the team with the highest points wins the FEI Nations Cup™ and the two teams with the lowest points will be relegated to the FEI Nations Cup Promotional League. The highest placed team from the 2011 FEI Nations Cup Promotional League Final and the highest placed Team on the FEI European Nations Cup Promotional League standings immediately prior to the 2011 FEI Nations Cup Promotional League Final will join the FEI Nations Cup™ Top League for 2012.

FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 Calendar:
La Baule (FRA), Friday 13 May; Rome (ITA), Friday 27 May; St Gallen (SUI), Friday 3 June; Falsterbo (SWE), Friday 8 July; Aachen (GER), Thursday 14 July; Hickstead (GBR), Friday 29 July; Dublin (IRL); Friday 5 August.; Rotterdam (NED), Friday 26 August.




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