Miami Celtics kick-started their 2018 GCL season with a breathtaking win in Mexico City, dramatically snatching victory from overnight leaders Paris Panthers.
Brilliant double clears from the seasoned Denis Lynch and young talent Michael Duffy propelled them to the top of the podium with the Panthers in second and Valkenswaard United in third place. Tension remained high right up until the last rider in the last team as team fortunes rose and fell in dramatic fashion.
Under-25 Miami Celtics rider Michael Duffy said: “This is what we all get out of bed in the morning for – this is the level everyone aspires to be at and these are the best shows in the world, so for me it’s a dream come true. We delivered the goods today, and the plan is to stay at the top!”
Nineteen teams, including several new squads, were on the starting grid for the first leg of 2018 and the stakes are higher than ever. The GCL regular season of 16 events climaxes in Doha followed by the big new showdown at the GC Prague Play Offs in December.
Under brilliant blue skies and the extraordinary giant Mexican flag fluttering over the arena, the team contest got underway with thousands of spectators and guests creating a vibrant festival atmosphere.
The course on the immaculate grass arena at Campo Marte set a serious test with connecting lines and plenty of opportunities to cut corners. A flimsy 1.60m vertical to finish proved costly and heartbreaking for many.
Run in reverse order of merit from Friday’s opening round and carrying their penalties with them, the teams set out in determined mood. The new format saw the two team riders starting directly one after the other to deliver the team score and adding to excitement for fans.
There was disappointment for New York Empire’s David Will and Scott Brash. But the competition came to the boil with the new Prague Lions team with the combination of Gerco Schroder and the fresh-looking Glock’s London and Under-25 rider Anna Kellnerova with the 11-year-old Classic. Their double clear put them back in the mix on a final score of 17.
Shanghai Swans fielded a new rider from their roster, Daniel Deusser with Tobago Z, and they were just caught by the double for a four-fault round while second team rider Shane Sweetnam returned on Main Road and punched home with a brilliant clear for a total of 20.
The temperature soared as the powerful team of the Rome Gladiators upped the pace once again with Friday’s winner Lorenzo De Luca, this time riding Halifax van het Kluizebos, going clear before Abdel Said and the scopey Jumpy van de Hermitage’s eight faults put them on an equal score of 17 with Prague Lions, but ahead in the rankings due to their quicker times.
Miami Celtics and the Berlin Eagles were on level pegging on carried over scores of six. The Celtics’ U25 rider Michael Duffy delivered a clear on EFS Top Contender and was matched by team-mate Denis Lynch and RMF Cadeau De Muze piling pressure on the remaining teams.
Hamburg Giants looked rock solid this week and stood fourth overnight, but ended with 25 on the score card, dropping down the order as the Miami Celtics continued to rise.
Third placed Valkenswaard United, overall winners in 2016, fielded Alberto Zorzi with Fair Light van T Heike — a substitute for Bertram Allen — and Marcus Ehning and Funky Fred. A costly eight faults left them on a total of 12, guaranteeing Miami Celtics a podium spot.
The final results were balanced on a knife-edge. London Knights’ new recruits, twin brothers Olivier and Nicola Philippaerts, were just one point behind the overnight leaders Paris Panthers, but they picked up 12 penalties and victory fell out of their grasp.
With just a fence in-hand, the Panthers powered into the ring, but Darragh Kenny drew gasps as the first fence fell and, when a second rail fell in the Longines double, the Miami Celtics were declared triumphant. However, their speed paid off as they beat Valkenswaard United on time to take the runner up spot.