To complete my winter preparation for next season's World Cups I recently ventured to France for the French ranking event, St Jean de la Ruelle. Just like Amsterdam I travelled completely on my own, but unlike then I also stayed completely on my own, as none of my other teammates or club mates were competing in my event. I have to say though, I found it quite rewarding and exhilarating, travelling around Europe on my own to fencing competitions. It was as if I was on my own Odysseian adventure, although thankfully it did not take me 10 years to reach home.
As for the competition itself I was delighted to discover Glenn Sancroft and his new fiancee Jennifer McMillan, from Scotland were there, whose French language skills were slightly better than my Del-boy level abilities..'bonnet de douche, Rodney, bonnet de douche'. Seriously though, I did perfect one sentence, "pardon, Je ne parle français". While Chrystall Nicoll and Jo Hutchison arrived later in time to fence in the women's event.
The French events have a slightly strange format. The top 28 on the French rankings (including any fencers in the top 50 of the world rankings) are separated from everyone else and fence in four poules of seven. The rest (group B) fence their poules and then the results are amalgamated, with all of group A seeded above B (i.e. in places 1-28) and then the direct elimination begins. I won 6/6 poule fights, which achieved my first target and was seeded 2nd out of 104, or rather 30/132 after the amalgamation. As a result of this system it means that it is extremely difficult to break into the top 16 as the top seeds of B, will fence those of A who have done best in the last 32. In fact one could argue that it is slightly easier to lose a poule fight and thus end up with a more middling draw in the last 32, of course though, it is harder to reach the last 32. In any case, I fenced Haberer, an experienced French international, who unfortunately had too much for me on the day.
However, I believe that the competition was a success. I had achieved my two primary targets of winning all my poule fights and reaching the 32, and although 26th place does not sound all that good, I felt I had done well. Before it was time to get the Eurostar back home I was able to watch Chrystall and Jo in the finals of the women's event, who came 2nd and 3rd respectively, which was good to see. Most importantly the competition was good exposure for me to European fencing and is helping push me towards the big competition next summer. Less than 7 months to go now, about 7 weeks until qualification resumes and let's just say its certainly very exciting....