France has made a winning start in the opening leg of FEI Nations Cup Eventing series at Fontainebleau over the weekend.
A strong quartet set the standard for the season by leading the dressage, and were then the only team to produce four clear cross-country rounds.
Two-time European Champion Nicolas Touzaint finished best of the four in fourth place, followed by Eric Vigeanel in sixth, Maxime Livio, eighth, and Donatien Schauly in 14th.
Last year, France was beaten at Fontainebleau by Germany who, with Great Britain, went on to dominate the series. France finished third on the final leaderboard at the end of the season but, boosted by a team bronze medal at the 2013 FEI European Championships in Malmö in Sweden, they look likely to challenge for the top spot this year, especially now that they have the master planner Thierry Touzaint back as team trainer.
In the end, Germany was not able to field a team, so five nations contested this first leg of the 2014 series. The Netherlands, a nation that has participated enthusiastically in the series since it began in 2012, was second, with the Dutch rider Elaine Pen and Vira, leading throughout to emerge as individual winners of the competition.
Pen finished on the same score as Italy’s Vittoria Panizzon on the popular grey mare Borough Pennyz, but was closer to the optimum cross-country time to claim the honours. Second-placed Panizzon led her three-rider team to fourth place. The Italians had been third after cross-country until Alberto Giugni and Sportsfield Quality picked up 25 penalties in the final jumping phase, which meant the Italians slipped a place to finish behind Great Britain.
Britain, winners of the series last year, have a policy of selecting teams for this series from a pool of promising riders. Izzy Taylor, who made her senior squad début last year, finished best in individual 13th place on Dax van Ternieuwbeke.
The British had been third after dressage, but lost any chance of improving on this position when Emily Llewellyn had a refusal at Pierre Michelet’s influential fourth fence on Greenlawn Sky High, and Lucy Wiegersma and Mr Chunky were eliminated at fence 19.
Spain, which finished fourth in the inaugural series in 2012, came fifth at Fontainebleau after two riders were eliminated for cross-country falls.
Next month, the series moves, for the first time, to Ireland. Cross-country course designer Peter Fell has set a very different style of test on his home turf at Ballindenisk.
1 France, 150.4
Nicolas Touzaint/Crocket 30, 48.2;
Eric Vigeanel/Qatar du Puech Rouget, 50.8;
Maxime Livio/Opium de Verrieres, 51.4;
Donatien Schauly/Pivoine des Touches, 58.2
2 Netherlands, 181.8
Elaine Pen/Vira, 42.4;
Tim Lips/Keyflow, 60.8;
Andrew Heffernan/Millthyme Corolla, 78.6
(Florinoor Hoogland/Captain Henessy, EL Cross Country)
3 Great Britain, 223.6
Izzy Taylor/Dax van Ternieuwbeke, 55.6;
Gemma Tattersall/Chico Bella P, 60.6;
Emily Llewellyn/Greenlawn Sky High, 107.4
(Lucy Wiegersma/Mr Chunky, EL Cross Country)
4 Italy, 233.0
Vittoria Panizzon/Borough Pennyz, 42.4;
Alberto Giugni/Sportsfield Quality, 93.0;
Ariana Schivo/Quefira de l’Ormeau, 97.6
5 Spain, 1180.6
Cristina Pinedo Sendagort/Helena Xll, 82.8;
Albert Hermoso Farras/Yasmina V, 97.8
(Gonzalo Blasco Botin/Judy, EL Cross Country;
Gonzalo Senra Chover/Busti Husti, EL Cross Country)
Leaderboard (after 1 of 9 events)
1 France 11 points
2 Netherlands 9
3 Great Britain 8
4 Italy 7
5 Spain 6