Local star Frank Schuttert (NED) pulled off an extraordinary home win against phenomenal odds, winning the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Valkenswaard Presented by Sapinda. The 24-year-old Dutchman had no words to sum up his win, which had the local crowd on their feet cheering during his lap of honor at Tops International Arena as he sealed a place in the GC Playoffs in Prague.
“I am also speechless,” he shared. “It is my first 5* Grand Prix win. I was waiting for this moment and in front of a Dutch crowd it is amazing, fantastic and a dream come true. It is amazing, I never expected it. I am not in a global team (GCL) but maybe after today next year it would be nice!”
It was to be one of the most entertaining jump-offs of the turbo-charged season with only one hundredth of a second separating first and second place. With 11 top combinations into the jump-off at a pivotal stage in the championship series, the atmosphere was tense and the challenge was immense.
As the curtain went down Ben Maher (GBR) was still sitting on top of the overall LGCT championship ranking but did not clock up extra points in Valkenswaard allowing his rivals to edge closer.
It was clear early on that the course was a major challenge with tricky, delicate verticals and substantial oxers in a double combination all requiring supreme power and precision. With the pristine sand arena bathed in early evening sunshine the stakes were high for the 14th leg of the circuit.
Super aerial views of the Tops International Arena facility played out on the giant screens and on TV as the action got underway in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Valkenswaard Presented by Sapinda. Despite the level of difficulty set by course designer Uliano Vezzani there were more than expected clear rounds due to the high caliber field.
In a nation of cyclists, it was the light, narrow bicycle vertical fence that caused plenty of heartache in the arena. Other bogey fences included the double combination of substantial oxers and the delicate Stal Tops vertical.
With 34 starters, including several aiming for crucial points to bolster their positions at the top of the LGCT ranking, there was all to play for in Valkenswaard. There was disappointment for Pieter Devos (BEL) and Gin D and Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) riding California and Jur Vrieling (NED) on VDL Glasgow v. Merelsnest N.O.P. all clocking up an uncharacteristic 8 faults apiece.
The early starters for the jump off set off at a lightning pace to force the formidable combinations that were to follow into mistakes. But it was to prove very costly. Alberto Zorzi and Fair Light van’t Heike were super quick to the last but knocked the final fence for four faults in 39.35s.
Simon Delestre employed the same tactic with Hermes Ryan but it was to be an agonizing four faults at the Sapinda vertical and slower across the finish line in 43.32. Eric Lamaze hit the accelerator but also clocked up four faults despite achieving the fastest time of the jump off in 38.11s.
Christian Ahlmann saw his chance to go clear and take victory but his time of 41.01s on Tokyo left the door dangerously open.
Martin Fuchs and Clooney took all the risks to get ahead but saw his chances ebb away with four faults at the vertical.
Dutch fans held their breath as young home rider Frank Schuttert and his 10-year-old bay stallion Chianti’s Champion delivered a smooth deceptively fast round stopping the clock in 39.89s as he punched the air in delight. It was his first ever CSI5* Grand Prix win, he confirmed later.
Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Crunch 3 were unable to deliver the second clear and ended on four faults in 46.24s with Jessica Springsteen (USA) and RMF Zecilie knocking the Sapinda vertical and finishing on 41.45s. Niels Bruynseels looked threatening and thrilled with amazing acceleration on Cas de Liberte Z but still could not beat the leading time.
As the jump-off raced towards its climax Marcus Ehning and Cornado NRW cranked up the pressure and looked to be ahead but crossed the finish line in 39.90s – an astonishing one hundredth of a second behind Schuttert.
Last to go Nicola Philippaerts was the final contender for the crown and duly chased down sharp inside turns, but dropped the penultimate fence opening up an extraordinary Dutch win for Schuttert, who now has a coveted spot in the LGCT Super Grand at the GC Playoffs in Prague in December.