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GB team winners of the Bleriot cup Bleriot Cup 2004 Report

L to R pictured:
  • Neil Roberts
  • Steve Pym
  • Simon Oliphant
  • Kitt Rudd
  • Carlo Borsattino
  • Abigail Barr
  • Charlie Merrett
  • Big Cup

On Thursday 19th August the French paragliding and hang gliding teams arrived in the UK to do battle to retain the Bleriot Cup. This annual event is held in alternate countries, last year saw us in the Pyrenees, this year was based around the Long Mynd area. The cup has been in French hands for five years now so the British teams were very keen to take it back.

With almost a decade of competition experience, Neil Roberts was chosen to captain the Paragliding team. Having witnessed four previous Bleriot competitions, Neil had definite ideas for this campaign. Knowing his team to be perfectly capable of matching the French in physically flying the tasks, Neil concentrated on the equipment, communications and teamwork of his men and lady. Along with the technical brilliance of British Team manager Chris (Calvo) Burns, the team were prepared to the last degree.

Task 1
found all teams on the Long Mynd, paragliders aiming for an 83k race to Bidford with a turnpoint at Stourport while the Hang gliders went for a straight 105k race to goal.
As window opened, conditions were temptingly booming, but the race start was to be some 45 minutes later so our team stood still and watched the French take off. The plan paid off as the French were stuck flying waiting for the next cycle. All the Brits walled up and were itching to go, but Neil held them back, watching and waiting. Then cloud shadow cleared to sunlight and team UK were released to the sky.
By the time we had made our third thermic circle we had passed the French and were on route to cloud base. The French scampered in below us and followed us up the thermal as we went over the back and on our way. Joining up at cloud base, working as a team, vice captain Carlo Borsattino was sent ahead in search of the teams next climb. Neil checked the rest were arriving at cloud base and went off to help Carlo.
The French were trying to follow us but only two managed to stay with us. Thermal two, found on the flats toward Wenlock Edge, messages sent and the team join again. Charlie Merrett and Abigail Barr joined the climb as Neil and Carlo look downwind for the next move. Carlo wants to go but Neil advises patience let the Hangies lead the way. Lift turns to zero and the race is back on. The hangies go and we chase them down, speed bars on and race toward the Clee Hills. Getting very low and starting to worry, we follow ground features lower and lower, nothing seems to work, the French follow us in, lower and lower, oh no! what have we done?? Then beep! Then beep again, the beginnings of something, anything. Carlo radios a climb, Neil has it too but has a Frenchie hard on his shoulder, beep beep and a hard carving turn that the French man couldn’t follow, Neil cores the bubble and his opponent slips around the outside. Two up, four up, six up, Neil and Carlo scream up to the clouds watching the Frenchie scudding near the ground. Yea Hah!!!
Messages come back that Steve Pym has taken his Frenchie to the ground near the A49, Simon Oliphant has downed with another around Wenlock Edge. Team reserve Burkitt Rudd was helping Abigail Barr in her thermal search and Charlie, Neil and Carlo were out in front and leading the task.
Team manager, Calvo, now chasing in the retrieve vehicle, radioing useful information all the time. The French were dropping like flies in this unfamiliar flat land flying.
The wind had strengthened as we crossed the Clee Hills. Neil found a scrappy thermal and tried to mark it for Charlie, Carlo pushed on but found nothing, gliding on and on under dark dead clouds, still nothing. Neil had to stay with his zero’s as Charlie came in, Carlo radioed a climb but he was miles away, Neil had to go but found nothing. In desperation I had to leave the dead cloud and head south for sun light, still nothing! Come on, come on! Then nearing the ground, a blib, a rustle, something, somewhere, come on, come on! Beep beep, a climb but not fast enough, both Neil and Charlie were drifting too south for the turnpoint. We had to leave our climbs and push upwind, with a strong wind and few thermals we struggled to the turnpoint and found no other climbs.
Meanwhile, Abigail had got back up to cloud base and Carlo was nearing goal. At the same time Calvo was sweet talking a police man who’d stopped him for talking on a radio and looking at the sky while driving. On hearing we were beating the French he hurried him on his way “sock it too ‘em my son”. Even on the ground the team worked together, radioing information, reporting sky conditions, calculating speed to fly for Carlo. Abi cleared the turnpoint with only one French on her and Carlo sailed into goal and a new BRITISH RECORD to a defined goal.
We beat them by almost 500 points on the first day, Yeh hah! All we had to do was turn the tables and mark them, one on one, and the cup would be ours.

Task 2
This turned out to be the last competitive day the paragliders had. On a windy Wrekin we marked them for three and a half hours. They turned, we turned better, they climbed, we climbed better. They pushed out, we stayed above them. Our team work and communications were exceptional, we frustrated the hell out of them. British team members found climbs to leave the hill but maintained discipline and came back to mark the French. Eventually after what seemed like the longest ridge soar in history the weather deteriorated and the task had to be canned. Our lead still in tact. A couple of cu-nim days went by and the last day arrived with howling winds. The French, desperate to fly, took off struggling slowly forward to connect with a thermal, trying to prove it was taskable. Then on leaving the thermal finding a 60kph wind blowing them backwards, having to admit the game was over.
The Bleriot Cup had been won by the British in both disciplines. The hang gliders had managed three tasks and had beaten them each time. I’m sure their write up will appear in their section. Roll on next year when we keep it from them on their own soil.
Report by Neil Roberts. Team Captain and British Squad Training manager