Over the weekend of 26th / 27th September the Marathon Junior Development Squad travelled to France to compete at the French National Marathon Championships, the equivalent, if not grander version of our National Marathon Championships.
The event was held in a town called Bouchemain near Angers on the River Maine near its confluence with the River Loire.
A team of 14 juniors travelled with 4 coaches to the event including Fred Kemp and ex Reading paddler Hasfer Kabeer. The object of the trip is to show the juniors what it is like racing away from home friends and parents etc. All the GB juniors taken are top paddlers in their age group in the UK, so generally above the average standard of the French paddlers in their age group at this event. However, so as to make the race more challenging all of the GB juniors are entered into the age class above what they would paddle in the UK. None of the juniors are expected to win, or win easily, but to experience racing with foreign paddlers etc.
The format of the racing is similar to the UK Championships with K2 racing one day and K1 racing the next with courses of 15km or 20km and two or three portages.
The course was an upstream start with a 500m sprint to go under and fairly narrow bridge arch before joining the course proper. Then onto laps of around 5km with a portage at the end of each lap going almost immediately into the bottom turn.
The river at Bouchemaine is quite wide compared to most English rivers and capable holding starts of 70 plus paddlers without taking up the entire width of the river. However paddlers on the far left certainly had their work cut out for them against those that started on the right. There was some flow on the river, but not too much. But there was an increasing headwind over the weekend on the upstream section making parts of the course choppy.
Fred raced K2 with a boy called Timmy Dowden from RLS in the under 16s event. There were 26 boats in their start. From the start of the race the boys were in the lead group and seemed quite comfortable. The two pictures below shows how well they started. The pictures are taken 7 seconds apart! Fred is in the back of the yellow boat on the left.
Portaging at this level is fast and furious. The portage itself was onto a pontoon only capable of taking 2 K2s per side, and one side being particularly difficult to come into at speed. Missing the pontoon or misjudging it meant a sort of beach portage which needed some care! Fred and Timmy portaged well although missing the pontoon on the first lap and sprinted away with the lead boat each time causing the remaining French to chase hard and reducing the group at each portage.
The following pictures shows the boys in the lead group approaching the portage and deciding that only the far side had space.
Missing the pontoon and doing a beach portage, but still being with the lead boat at the other end of the portage!
The boys eventually lapped the girls… That’s Hafsa waiting to put her boat in! Around another lap and to the finish!
Fred and Timmy finished a very credible 2nd. To the credit of the French organisation there were two prize giving ceremonies, one International and one French Championship, unlike a couple of years ago when the British only walked away with the knowledge of beating the French!
On the Sunday Fred and Timmy were out again but racing each other and 57 other boys.
Fred coming into and out of the first portage.
Fred coming through the second portage. And leaving the second portage.
Finishing with Timmy, 2:57 behind the winner.
Well done Fred and Timmy.