#isaf – Olympic sailing gets a great deal hotter this week thanks to a revamped World Cup circuit where only the best sailors in the world have been invited to race at ISAF's Sailing World Cup in Hyeres, France tomorrow. Ireland can expect a tough fight to the finish on Sunday with just 40 of the best crews in each of the classes giving a true test of form. Anticipation is high amongst the 600 Olympic sailors in 400 boats and 39 Paralympic sailors in 25 boats.
As Afloat.ie previously reported, as a result of the new format there will be no Irish mens Laser participation because neither Belfast's James Espey or Dublin's Finn Lynch have made the Hyeres cut but Annalise Murphy is racing in the Laser Radial. Also racing are Silver medallists from last year, Northern Ireland's Ryan Seaton and Matt Mc Govern in the 49er class. Dun Laoghaire Olympic hopefuls, Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey in the 49erFX class are also in France and three-man Paralympic Sonar sailing team, John Twomey, Ian Costello and Austin O'Carroll will also compete.
Early weather forecasts suggest light to medium conditions for tomorrow's French test but nothing is takewn for granted on the Cote D'Azur because strong mistral winds are never really very far away.
The ten Olympic and three Paralympic events at ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères are flooded with Olympic, Paralympic, World and Continental Champions.
Entries are restricted to 40 competitors in each fleet and 2014 ISAF Sailing World Championships gold medallists Nicholas Heiner (NED), Mat Belcher (AUS) and Giles Scott (GBR) are excited about the new concept and facing off against the best sailors in their respective disciplines from the off.
With the world's most athletic, versatile and competitive sailors making up the fleets the competition will be exceptional and there's a buzz across the boat parks as Belcher explained, "There's a sense of pride here because it's the first time entries have been restricted. The Worlds and Europeans are open but it's a privilege to be here.
"Everyone knows they've qualified to be here and they've earned their place and they're looking forward to racing. People are excited and that's filtered through to the younger sailors and teams who haven't qualified. They're going to be training harder and doing the other events and they'll be proud to get on the start line at future World Cups.
"It's a pretty cool and exciting time to be in sailing at the moment."
ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères is the first occasion where fleets are decided based on the ISAF World Sailing Rankings and a qualification regatta. The world's top 30 sailors from the 2 February 2015 ISAF World Sailing Rankings release were invited to Hyères with the remaining ten receiving their spot at ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères qualification regatta, Trofeo Princesa Sofia.
Great Britain's Scott had his place on the Hyères startline sewn up well in advance of Trofeo Princesa Sofia but put in another strong performance, taking gold to extend his win streak. From four previous appearances in Hyères Scott's best result is a second behind compatriot Andrew Mills at the 2013 edition with a seventh coming in 2011, a fourth in 2009 and a 39th in the Laser in 2005.
With such strong recent form Scott is buoyant about his chances to take a first Hyères gold but he feels no weight of expectations, "Do I feel the pressure?" asked Scott quietly to himself, "Obviously it's there and people talk about it a lot but I don't really feel any pressure. I'm happy with where everything is at. I'm still working on a lot of stuff and as long as I'm still moving forward then I'm content."
Forty strong Finn sailors will be doing battle on the waters off the French Riviera and Scott knows his rivals will be ready to perform, "Ivan's [Kljakovic Gaspic] been going well over the past year, Ed [Wright] is always up there as are the French. There's a big group of 15 guys that are certainly capable of medalling for sure.
"It's very good to get racing that's as much like the Games as possible. If you're on that 40th cusp it's potentially tricky as they'll have to work that much harder to compete with the top guys. But once you're there then the racing is good and it's the pinnacle of the sport in dinghy racing."
Competition in the Laser will be wide open. Across a 12 month period there have been multiple regatta victors with the smallest of mistakes punished. Each event at ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères is a single fleet competition with no qualification required. The competitors will be battling it out from the off for valuable points and positions and 2014 World Champion Heiner is full of anticipation, "It's going to be an interesting showcase," commented Heiner.
"It's the first event where you get racing against the 40 best guys in the world straight away. There's no qualification and it's going to be good racing, for sure.
"Anybody in the top ten can win this event and at the very least be on the podium. You've seen it over the past few World Cups. Phillip Buhl is now sailing really well and then there's World #1 Tom Burton. There are a few guys that are always up there and if we get some offshore stuff it's going to be really interesting."
Anticipation is high amongst the 600 Olympic sailors in 400 boats and 39 Paralympic sailors in 25 boats. Final preparations are underway with racing scheduled to commence on 22 April.
A four day series will build up to the Medal Races on Sunday 26 April where Abu Dhabi Final spots will be picked up.