Koos de Ronde picks up fourth FEI World Cup™ Driving win at Mechelen
by Cindy Timmer
Dutch driver Koos de Ronde has a special bond with the FEI World Cup™Driving in Mechelen (BEL). He won the competition in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and he won it again this year after a truly exciting competition.
De Ronde's compatriot IJsbrand Chardon was actually well underway to secure his first-ever victory in the 12-year history of the FEI World Cup™ Driving in Mechelen when fate struck and his carriage tipped over. Luckily, Chardon, his grooms and his four horses were all uninjured and the four-times World Champion ended the night in third.
London-Olympia winner Boyd Exell (AUS) finished second behind Koos de Ronde, who was competing on a wild card.
The excitement grew when each of the eight competitors entered the fully packed Nekkerhal in Mechelen where Dutch O-course designer had laid out a good fast course. Rookie Glenn Geerts (BEL), who also competed with a wild card, set the time to beat in the first round and nearly made it to the Winning Round, much to the excitement of the Belgian driving fans. But Boyd Exell, IJsbrand Chardon and Koos de Ronde all beat Geerts’ very fast time to qualify for the Winning Round with very small time differences.
Boyd Exell was trying out his horse, Twister, as the leader of his indoor team for the first time, Boyd lent the 13-year-old gelding to Fredrik Persson (SWE) in Olympia and the horse was part of Theo Timmerman’s (NED) four-in-hand last season. Boyd knew he was a fantastic wheeler and had a feeling that he would be a good leader. Boyd wanted to test him at full speed, knowing his starting place for the Final at Bordeaux was already secured and he had nothing to lose in Mechelen. Twister did a very good job and Boyd was thrilled with him, even though he got very strong in the Winning Round and Boyd missed a loop in the first marathon obstacle, which cost him precious seconds.
With his second place behind wild card driver Koos de Ronde, Boyd picked up the full 10 points and has taken over the lead in the standings from Chardon. Boyd is now going on a well-deserved holiday in his home country of Australia and will be back rested and fit for the Final in Bordeaux.
Mixed coloured team
Boyd was not the only driver who used Mechelen to try a new horse. Koos de Ronde was not very pleased with his results at the previous competitions and decided to replace one of his father’s wheeler horses with his outdoor horse Celina. After winning the first competition on Saturday, Koos already knew he had made the right decision. De Ronde drove his multi-coloured team of a black, a grey, a bay and a piebald fast through the course, determined to put the pressure on Chardon, who was starting after him. His right leader horse Night unfortunately knocked down two balls, but his time was still very fast to put him ahead of Exell and, when last starter IJsbrand Chardon had tipped over, De Ronde held on to first place. De Ronde made it clear that he does not like to win this way, but he was pleased to have been able to compete in Mechelen with a wild card and to get the chance to test the new set-up of his team. He would very much have liked to win the 10 points in Mechelen because he desperately needs more points if he is to qualify for the Final. The team gold medallist in Riesenbeck is currently lying seventh in the standings and will have to finish in the top at the last competition in Leipzig to be part of the Top Six who will go to the FEI World Cup™ Driving Final in Bordeaux.
After Boyd’s extra loop and Koos’ two knockdowns, last man in IJsbrand Chardon had a 13-second advantage and his first-ever victory in Mechelen had never been so close. Chardon drove his special indoor team of Lipizzaner horses fast over the start line and through the first cone when his carriage went on two wheels and tipped over. IJsbrand and his grooms were launched clean out of the carriage, but luckily course designer Johan Jacobs was able to catch the horses straight away. The four horses were all uninjured and although Chardon and his grooms were a little stiff, they got back onto the carriage and left the arena with their chins held high, warmly cheered by the spectators. Chardon wants to forget this incident as quickly as possible and will focus on his next start in Leipzig, where he will compete with a wild card.
Top drivers Boyd Exell, IJsbrand Chardon and Koos de Ronde all declared Glenn Geerts the true winner of Mechelen at the post-competition press conference. The 23-year-old four-in-hand driver was the fourth starter and put down the time to beat, which was a second faster than De Ronde’s time on the first day. It was Geerts’ second time in Mechelen with a wild card. He only started driving four-in-hand horses in 2010. His grandfather, Achille Snoeys, started with a wild card in Mechelen in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005.
Last chance competition
Experienced driver Jozsef Dobrovitz (HUN) was unable to beat Geerts’ time and finished in fifth place. With one last competition to go in Leipzig, Dobrovitz is currently sixth in the standings, only one point ahead of Koos de Ronde, which will guarantee a super exciting ‘last chance’ competition.
Werner Ulrich (SUI) also tried two other wheeler horses in his four-in-hand and finished sixth in Mechelen. Stockholm-winner Ulrich is - like Exell, Chardon, Eriksson and Timmerman - already certain of a starting place in the Final.
Christoph Sandmann drove his last competition for points in Mechelen and ended in seventh place, ahead of third wild card driver Gert Schrijvers.
Koos de Ronde (NED): “I tested the mare Celina in the wheel of my team because I wanted to get the feeling to be able to qualify for the Winning Round in an easy way. It did not come easy for me in the previous competitions and I wanted to change that. And I did get that ‘yes’ feeling again; I was able to steer my horses sharp, faultless and fast through the course. It was a shame that IJsbrand tipped over, I don’t like to win this way. I will use the same horses again in Leipzig where I will have to win in order to make it to the Final. For next season, I will have to start looking for some new indoor horses. The ones I have now are still fit but they are getting older and they lack a bit of speed sometimes. I need more speed if I want to remain part of this very cool game!”
Boyd Exell (AUS): “I tested Twister because I needed to know if he was a top level horse or a good horse. I found out that he is a good horse, but I am always comparing new horses to my top horses Bill and Spitfire, and it is hard to equal their standard. I am searching for supersonic leaders and they are hard to find. I was lucky in the marathon obstacle where I went too fast and missed the B-gate. My regular navigator Michelle was not with me, but her replacement Sarah did a very good job, she prevented me from getting eliminated.”
IJsbrand Chardon (NED): “I had a super feeling and I knew victory was in my hands. The first round went very easy and I took off at normal speed in the Winning Round. Unfortunately we tipped over. This affects me, of course, but the only way to ensure that this will never happen again is to never compete again and I won’t do that! Koos does not want to win like this and I don’t want to lose like this. I want to put this behind me as quickly as possible and focus on Leipzig and Bordeaux.”