Rio Olympian Lucien Delfour showed flashes of his best form by beating a world-class field in the K1 final of the New Zealand Open near Palmerston North on the weekend.
Delfour posted a clean 96.44sec run, just 0.08secs ahead of Martin Dougoud (Switzerland). Mike Dawson was the best Kiwi in fifth, hitting two gates at the bottom of the course to finish 4.64secs behind the winner.
It was a confidence-booster for Delfour, two weeks after being pipped in the final of the Australian championships, putting him in a good space before next weekend’s Oceania championships.
“I’m still trying to get my fitness back to where it was before and it’s taking a little while,” Delfour said.
“There’s work to be done before next weekend but I was definitely happy with the win.”
There was also a strong performance from fellow Olympian, Ian Borrows, in the final of the C1.
Thibault Blaise (France) won the gold medal, 2.26secs ahead of Borrows, with Ben Gibb the leading New Zealander in third.
In the women’s events, New Zealand’s Kelly Travers showed countrywoman Luuka Jones she’s got a C1 fight on her hands, upstaging the Rio Olympian.
Travers took out the C1 (canoe) final on a wet and windy Mangahao River course by more than seven seconds, preventing Jones from completing a notable double after earlier winning the K1 (kayak) final.
Despite picking up four penalty touches, Travers clocked 134.82secs for her final run. Jones was second with 142.09.
It was a case of ‘what-if’ for Australia’s Alison Borrows. A missed gate cost her 50 seconds, eventually clocking 184.61 for fifth, 49.79 seconds behind the winner.
After winning K1 silver in Rio last year, Jones has added C1 to her training and racing programme and 23-year-old Travers admits she’s relishing their upcoming battles.
“It’s definitely good to have a little bit of added competition and puts some added pressure on,” Travers said.
“She’s one of the best in the world in K1 and transferring over to C1 appears to work quite well for her. It’s good for me to scale myself against her and is only going to keep pushing me forward.”
The New Zealand Open was the first of two big weeks for the sport, capped by next weekend’s Oceania Championships in Auckland at the new Vector Wero Whitewater Park.
Australia will field a strong team at the Championships, including two-time Olympic medallist, Jessica Fox, Rio teammates Delfour and Borrows, and Ros Lawrence.
K1: Lucien Delfour (Australia) 96.44 1, Martin Dougoud (Switzerland) 96.52 2, Michal Smolen (United States) 98.63 3, Pierre Bourliaud (France) 100.17 4, Mike Dawson (New Zealand) 101.08 5.
C1: Thibault Blaise (France) 107.83 1, Ian Borrows (Australia) 110.09 2, Ben Gibb (New Zealand) 110.50 3, Patrick Washer (New Zealand) 117.00 4, Shaun Higgins (New Zealand) 119.85 5.
K1: Luuka Jones (New Zealand) 109.75 1, Camille Prigent (France) 114.11 2, Amber Maslen (Great Britain) 119.53 3, Courtney Williams (New Zealand) 121.28 4, Jane Nicholas (New Zealand) 123.43 5.
C1: Kelly Travers (New Zealand) 134.82 1, Luuka Jones (New Zealand) 142.09 2, Jane Nicholas (New Zealand) 144.23 3, Haylee Dangen (New Zealand) 153.31 4, Alison Borrows (Australia) 184.61 5.