The script was not so much torn up as shredded on the opening day of the Prada Cup final after a performance from Ineos Team UK that was flatter than a pancake on Shrove Tuesday. Any meeker and they could almost be accused of match-fixing. It was just odd. Out of character. Out of kilter. Almost like everyone got out of bed on the wrong side today. Zero bite to anything, the tails were down right from the off, leaving viewers and supporters deflated, bemused and dejected. The boatspeed ghost of Christmas past came back to haunt with his evil friend the splashdown and there you have the tale of both races today.
Ben Ainslie always does it the hard way. It’s a hallmark. It’s almost as though a switch of defeat, a precipice of despair needs to be inflicted before he gets going but on the face of it today, he’s up against a Prada team that have nailed a knot more boatspeed upwind and that’s a Mike Tyson in-his-prime uppercut that is very hard to parry. On a course that offered few tactical opportunities, it was a test of sheer horsepower, especially in race two that exposed Ineos as deficient in speed whilst the beautiful detailing in the sail plan of Prada shone all day. The Italians looked to have a deeper combination that offered grunt and lift lower down that allowed them to fly faster and accelerate out of the tacks. Back to the drawing board for the Brits. The Lions weren’t roaring today.
Race one was all over within 10 seconds of the pre-start. Ineos splashed down after the first gybe into the box and that was that. Britannia sat in displacement and just couldn’t rise. Prada sailed off to the starboard side of the box, gybed round, stayed on the foils and were probably as stunned as the rest of us as they sailed around Ineos, leaving them for dead, and off into the distance.
After all the build up, this wasn’t in the program. The race notes promised “fire and fury” but this was a capitulation, an embarrassment even. Wallowing to even make the port end buoy, Ineos looked like a stalled F1 car, mis-firing on the grid as mad as a box of frogs. Eventually they rose but by then Prada was off to middle earth, in a galaxy far, far away. They made no mistakes and cruised to a 1 minute 52 second victory. A stroll on a summer’s day if truth be told. Never challenged. Never headed. We chalked that one as an aberration. The wind was building. Ineos would be back.
And race two was looking good with all the elements there to make the price of admission worthwhile. Beautiful 15 knots of breeze and flat water made for the perfect amphitheatre before a huge spectator fleet and a locked-down global audience willing for a gladiatorial battle.
The pre-start was hot. It looked almost like a simulator game and Ineos came off the line to leeward and ahead with VMG, point and pace. This promised so much. Prada couldn’t live there and was forced away onto port tack and to the unfavoured right hand side of the course. Time for Ineos to light the after-burners and hammer home the advantage but again, it just wasn’t happening. The prancing horses failed to materialise, the cavalry stalled on the hill with the rig deficient in power generation and Giles Scott was forced to take the wheel for the inevitable duck of the starboard crossing Prada as they came back together. Game over. From there, Prada just eked the lead steadily over six legs and wound up 26 seconds ahead by the finish. There was little the brains trust on Ineos could do. Tactical nous mattered for little on a day of outright boatspeed.
So it’s 2-0 to Prada. We could write Ineos off and call it a 7-0 whitewash right now but that would be foolish. The Brits will re-group, trust in the programme, analyse like fury and come back to the table with a new game-plan. The “on” button wasn’t depressed today. It was lacklustre all round and Ben Ainslie looked hunched, annoyed, angry but measured. You just can’t write him or the team off but on the pure numbers alone, they need a reset. The simple fact is that horsepower won. Prada has stepped up a level of performance that we haven’t seen before and they looked mighty. This is going to be a tough hill for Ineos. They knew the gradient would be steep but they’re looking up Mont Ventoux now, cycling a fixie whilst the Italians are on a race-tuned Pinarello, two turns ahead. Long old climb this.
The momentum is all with Italy. Jimmy Spithill was buzzing. Cecco was cheeky. Confidence in this game is everything and we’re strapped in on the Ben Ainslie roller-coaster for another wild ride of emotion and determination.
It’s never easy.
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