On December 6, the entire equestrian world will have its eyes fixed on the Longines Masters of Paris and one of the events that has made it a worldwide success: the Riders Masters Cup! Two teams, one competing for Europe, the other for the Americas, with the best riders from their respective continents, will compete against each other in two-rider “duels”, with either a fifth consecutive victory going Europe’s way or a first title going the way of the American continent at stake. The Chefs d’équipe have rolled the dice: the members of those two “super teams” have now been announced!
Launched in 2017, the new EEM initiative, along with Longines as a Founding Partner, the Riders Masters Cup, is a unique competition. Presented in conjunction with the EEF (European Equestrian Federation), this battle has so far pitted the two superpowers of world show jumping powers against each other: Europe and the United States. After four European victories, the cards have been reshuffled for 2019. The competition will now take place between Europe... and the American continent. For this new edition of the Riders Masters Cup, each team will be supported by an exceptional rider: Marcel Rozier, the Olympic Team Champion for France in 1976, will mentor the European team, and Nelson Pessoa, the great Brazilian winner of many events around the world, will mentor the America’s team. The team’s compositions, entrusted to the Chefs d’équipe of each of the two teams, Robert Ridland, the American coach who will coach for the Americas, and Henrik Ankarcrona, the Swedish coach, who will coach for Europe, have now finalized:
. Kevin Staut (FRA)
. Henrik von Eckermann (SWE)
. Martin Fuchs (SWI)
. Jos Verloy (BEL)
. Darragh Kenny (IRL)
. Marlon Modolo Zanotelli (BRA)
. Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA)
. Eric Lamaze (CAN)
. Laura Kraut (USA)
. Lucas Porter (USA)
Double interview: The Chefs d’équipe’s duel
How do you feel a few days out from the fifth edition of the Riders Masters Cup?
Henrik Ankarcrona (Europe): It’s a great honor to have been chosen to lead the European team for this Riders Masters Cup. I’m now looking forward to the start of the competition with great anticipation. Of course, you can count on me to give it everything I’ve got and ensure that Europe finishes on the highest step of the podium once again.
Robert Ridland (Americas): This will be my fifth Riders Masters Cup, and it’s always a great honor and pleasure to be part of this adventure. I’ve always believed in the potential of this competition and in Christophe Ameeuw's innovative vision.
Do you feel any particular pressure, seeing as the past four victories have gone Henrik Ankarcrona’s way?
Robert, do you feel the pressure to finally win this Riders Masters Cup?
H.A.: The coach of a team, whatever the competition, always feels a certain pressure. But I trust my five riders: I want more than anything to keep this Riders Masters Cup in Europe, and I think the riders also want that. Under these conditions, the pressure is easier to bear. In our sport, it's all about whether the poles stay in their cups or whether they fall, as well as timing... Despite my apparent serenity, I still expect it to be a tight competition.
R.R.: Obviously, starting as the outsider greatly eases the pressure (laughs)! I’d even venture to say that the possibility of a first victory for the Americas team creates a rare type of enthusiasm in the team, more than pressure. I think the pressure is more on the European team, which has a streak to uphold.
Tell us more about your selections.
H.A.: In Europe, we have a lot of choice when it comes to finding good riders. Many of them have approached me, as they’re so motivated by the Riders Masters Cup. I think I’ve built a particularly strong team, with a great “home-grown” pilot in Kevin Staut, who’ll benefit from the precious support of the public, Henrik von Eckermann, a Swedish rider, chosen to represent the homeland, and also because he’s an absolutely fantastic competitor, and three great athletes, who are in particularly great form at the moment; Martin Fuchs, the man of the moment, Darragh Kenny, who has ridden in the Riders Masters Cup previously, and Jos Verloy. I’m totally convinced that I have the best team of the moment.
R.R.: The Americas team selection was pretty obvious, it almost imposed itself on me. Marlon Modolo Zanotelli is a double gold medalist from this year’s Pan-American Games in Lima; I have known Rodrigo Pessoa and Eric Lamaze since the beginning, they are two great icons of our sport, with exceptional championship achievements; with the US team, Laura Kraut was the Olympic Champion and is the current World Champion; as for our under-25 rider, Lucas Porter was also an obvious choice. He’s had great results in recent months. Really, this team selection was obvious. I have to admit that it was probably easier to put together than the European team.
What are your team’s strengths and weaknesses?
H.A.: The number one strength of the European team? The fighting spirit of each of the five riders! I really have five winners-at-heart by my side. Their experience, particularly in championships, will be invaluable. As for any weakness, in all modesty, I don’t see any. Maybe their Chef d’équipe (laughs).
R.R.: The team's main strength is undoubtedly the individual experience of the riders. Have a look at everyone's list of accomplishments! This team has numerous gold medals! As for its main weakness, I would say that riders might possibly be destabilized by a competitive format that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
Does this Riders Masters Cup formula, extended to the Americas, inspire you?
H.A.: The idea of extending the competition to other American countries is great. The crazier we are, the more intense and vibrant the competition is. Robert already had a very good pool of American riders; he now has even more top riders to choose from and include in his selection! So, for the beauty of the sport and the competition, it's a very good decision. But for the European Chef d’équipe, it may not be as simple anymore (smile).
R.R.: It is indeed a new challenge! The format of previous editions pitted a continent against a single country. Let's just say that the new format is a great change. Not so much for the constitution of the Americas team, because I meet Canadians and Brazilians all year round. But rather from a sporting point of view and for the spectacle of the show.
What will your team strategy be in this Riders Masters Cup?
H.A.: The whole team will meet in Paris before the competition to discuss this. Robert has the advantage of having led teams in previous editions of the Riders Masters Cup. In my case, I will have to learn the rules inside out along with my team. We’ll also work on our "team spirit": I really believe that good team spirit, in this kind of competition, can make all the diﬀerence.
R.R.: You're asking me what I'm going to do, and letting my competitors in on the information? (laughs) But seriously, we'll have to wait for the draw to lay out our strategy quickly, in just 24 hours, and a refined one at that.
Finally, a word for your opponent?
H.A.: Robert, your American team beat my Swedish team at the last World Equestrian Games in 2018. Get ready for my revenge!
R.R.: Henrik, I hope you can handle the pressure. Hang in there! (laughs) I know you can do it, and that's what scares me! When I see the excellent results you’ve achieved this year with Sweden in the Nations Cup...