With 30.000 € prize money in 2008 (60.000 € in 2009) the Derby Arona is probably not the most spectacular One Loft Race in the world, yet this race still managed to achieve no less than 26 (!!) participating countries. Compared to other One Loft Races worldwide it is certainly not the ‘big prize money’ that attracts the fanciers, so what is it then? An on the spot visit to the final race was the ideal opportunity to find out.
Man at the centre : Jose Ledesma
If we ask Jose Ledesma the reason of the success he gives us the modest reason that this is mainly thanks to a very strong team that supports him with this infernal venture. As the conversation continues it soon becomes clear to us what the real reason for the success is. Jose Ledesma is an exceptional person on many levels, in the positive sense of the word. First and foremost there is the enormous passion that he emits when he talks about his race. We have been able to experience for ourselves the admiration for this Jose Ledesma from his closest colleagues and the participants present. Secondly there is the immaculate organization that supports this race. Every detail is taken care of: First and foremost there is the website which is maintained daily by Ledesma. Secondly the fantastic team that Ledesma has built around himself, we are mainly referring to his brother Abel Ledesma and comrade Roberto, who both take care of the daily attendance with boundless motivation. A third strong point of this race is the transparency, arrivals of the pigeons are publicised on the internet within seconds and therefore made visible for the entire world, films are made of all the baskettings, liberations, arrivals,… which shows that they have nothing to hide. The last strong point is the organisation of the day of the final itself, we experienced a true national feast in an exceptional atmosphere. There was food and drink ‘at will’ for everybody, delicious paella with a ‘Spanish pig’ for starters, in short, all the ingredients for a perfect day… But unfortunately everything didn’t go as planned…
Jose Ledesma at the right
Final race: anti-climax to a perfect three days
What we are referring to and what we can’t avoid are the great losses with which this One Loft Race was confronted. From the approximately 1.400 pigeons at the onset, just over 200 were present at the start of the final race, wherefrom at the time of writing this, 48 have arrived home.
“The losses can’t be justified, yet I would like to try to give you some explanation”, says Jose Ledesma. “Just to be clear, great losses of pigeons is not a phenomenon that only occurs in my One Loft Race. It a yearly recurring problem by the pigeon races for youngsters from all the Canary Islands. At the end of the pigeon season for youngsters there are only a maximum of 10 to 15% of the original participants remaining. Agreed, this year the percentage that returned during our final race was an extra disappointment. Following the perfect final race last year (whereby more than 75% arrived home the same day, ed.), everything was done in the same manner in order to bring the pigeons to the start in top condition.
Everything seemed to be going fine at first, it was literally 5 to 12 when the first pigeons arrived. A group of 4 pigeons that remained flying for half a minute and then landed together at the trap. Then of course it is a question of luck which pigeon stands on the antenna first. It was the pigeon Morgan from Team Dickmann-Stroetges who, with 3 old flights, made his ‘boss’ 12.000 EURO richer. More over the winner later.
The first arrivals, a group of 4 pigeons
But then, 30 minutes after the first arrivals, everything went quiet. Not counting a few loners, no other pigeon returned home that day. A small drama of course, more so because everything seemed to be going so well… We asked Ledesma for a word of explanation: “I don’t like it of course, but there could be a reason for this outcome. It is so that it is extremely well-known that in the Canary Islands the weather can completely change within half an hour, unfortunately we have experienced it by the final race today. By the liberation this morning it was slightly cloudy with a moderate side wind, both at the place of liberation, Fuerteventura, as in Tenerife. Exceptionally good weather conditions for liberating the pigeons so we didn’t hesitate. However, 2 hours after the liberation we received a telephone call from the Gran Canary, where in principle, the pigeons had to fly over. A rare rainstorm had broken… And as if that wasn’t enough, the wind started playing up in Tenerife, and probably over the sea too. For the last 100 kilometres the pigeons then had to endure an exceptionally strong side wind. Theoretically the pigeons would be blown right out to sea. Unfortunately the outcome is well-known… We did everything to avoid this and then we got the lid on our nose…”
Participant Van Keulen (NL) joins Jose Ledesma. Van Keulen began the start of the final with 4 of the 6 pigeons sent, but, more’s the pity, none returned in the final: “At a certain moment you realise as a participant that the organizing body has done absolutely everything to bring the pigeons to top condition and given them enough experience for the start of the final. Of course I’m disappointed with my personal result, but I was able to see with my own eyes the flourishing health of the pigeons by the basketting, well, then you can’t really blame Ledesma. Despite the disappointing result in the final for me personally, I am 100% sure that I will be present with a group of pigeons next year. It is such a fantastic event with an impeccable set-up and 100% openness of play. It was a pleasure to be part of this race. The months of tension that preceded have been worth the money.”, says Van Keulen.
Jan van Keulen on the right, during a dinner the evening before the final race
A reaction out the Pieter Oberhauster camp, a man with plenty of experience in One Loft Races all over the world and who is amongst other things coordinator for the Sun City One Million Dollar Race in England. He flew over from England with a few comrades specially, to ‘scout’ for the One Million Dollar Race and to deliberate as to whether or not they would dare to take part in this race the following year. He wanted to see for himself the positive feed-back that he had heard about the organization. He also emphasised that in all honesty he had never seen pigeons in such top condition in the One Loft Races. “All the pigeons radiated good health by the basketting. It is not easy to maintain the health in such One Loft Races, pigeons from hundreds of lofts over the entire world come together. Honestly speaking, I was impressed. Despite the disappointing final race I am convinced of the potential of this project and I will be part of it as from next year. Because one of the things I have learned by the One Million Dollar Race is that by a successful One Loft Race it is not just about the pigeons, it is also the sphere, the set-up, the social character,… Because be fair, in which event over the whole world do you come so easily into contact with fellow fanciers from the other side of the globe, as by this occasion. In addition, if you count the number of women here today, it is obvious that a weeks ‘pigeon’ holiday with the hubby is an attraction for a lot of women. And in this way the pigeon sport can safely be promoted as a family sport.”
The winner: Team Dickmann-Stroetges
After approx. 3 hours and 40 minutes for 292 Km, the first group of 4 pigeons arrived home. After circling a few rounds they landed at the trap. It was deathly quiet round the lofts, tensely waiting to see which of the 4 would go in first. A blue hen went inside… and hundreds of eyes looked towards the screen where the name would appear within a few seconds. Team Dickmann-Stroetges appeared in large letters and 2 of the people present jumped into the air… Of course it was the formation Andrea Dickmann & Karl-Josef Stroetges! They had flown over specially from Germany, even though they live only a few kilometres from the Dutch border and Venlo, to be part of this final.
Andre Dickmann & Karl-Josef Stroetges, winners of the Derby Arona Tenerife One Loft Race
According to this combination it is no coincidence that this pigeon made it, at least as far as the pedigree is concerned. The winner this year is namely a direct child of one of the toppers in the Derby Arona last year. Dickmann-Stroetges had apparently understood that for these sort of races you need a different type of pigeon than what is available in the Netherlands or Belgium in order to be successful. With this thought in mind and with the ambition of being able to race this sort of One Loft Races in the future, Dickmann-Stroetges decided to buy the 1st prize winner in the final race AND the 1st prize winner in the semi-final race, this pigeon also won 10th Ace pigeon in the Derby Arona One Loft Race in 2008. This year Dickmann-Stroetges bred the winner of the Derby Arona in 2009 out that cock. This cock is a crossing of Noel Lippens and Kleine Didi line from Etienne Devos. The mother of the winning hen is 100% Kuijpers line.An interesting fact is that the winning hen had also done well in the semi-final and in the previous race with a 14th and 34th place against 496 and 535 pigeons respectively. A handsome list of honours with which she also became 4th Ace pigeon in Derby Arona.
Another striking result in this final race was achieved by the pigeons from Kuwait. It is probably no coincidence that 4 of the 8 pigeons reached the loft, a great success percentage wise when compared to the other participating countries. The delegation present from Kuwait had a simple explanation for this: “Races in Kuwait are just as tough, if not tougher, as here in Tenerife. We then have the opportunity to select pigeons that can complete these tough races. Flying over the desert is maybe not the same as over water, but both types of races are very tough, so we strongly believe that that is the main reason for our strong results here.”
Kuwait delegation together with Belgian participants Ignace Vercauteren and Thierry Sibille
4 of the 8 Kuwait pigeons reached the loft and 0 of the 7 Belgian pigeons, as ‘cradle’ of the pigeon sport this is a result that we won’t place too much emphasis on. And maybe not a result to draw conclusions from, but Jose Ledesma still wanted to give a tip to fanciers who are considering taking part in the future: “Try to select a team of pigeons which includes middle distance, long distance and extreme long distance pedigrees. The conditions can never be predicted and with a very easy final race you have more chance with the middle distance pigeons than with the extreme long distance pigeons. The other way round, with a very tough race then the best pigeons in the race are the ones with a lot of endurance. Theoretically seen this is the formula for a chance at success in this race.”
Scoop: introduction GPS system
People who haven’t followed the course of this One Loft Race will probably not have noticed that during this race a real debut for pigeon land took place. Together with a few engineers, Jose Ledesma developed a GPS-system with the aim of being able to see the exact route that the pigeon was following along with all the corresponding details so as height, speed… A GPS receiver weighing about 10 grams was attached to the pigeon and when the pigeon returned home this GPS would be linked to the PC and you would immediately get to see the entire path that the pigeon had flown geographically on the screen. Of course, this was not tested with participating pigeons, but with a few test pigeons that were released along with the participating pigeons. A few remarkable conclusions are that the pigeons that are liberated together sometimes fly a completely different path and yet come together at almost the exact same moment so that you could think that the pigeons have flown together, which apparently is not always the case by pigeons that return together.The most fascinating result came when 3 groups of pigeons (all test pigeons) were liberated from the ‘Teide’ mountain in Tenerife at a height of 2200 m, and whereby the clouds were about 500 metres below. This test was to see if the pigeons sought their way home above or below the clouds.Each of these 3 groups remained circling around the mountain for no less than 2 hours, and also above the clouds. After 2 hours 2 of the 3 groups took the risk of flying through the clouds and so temporarily blinding themselves. In this descent a velocity of no less than almost 145 km per hour was achieved! The descent went well and as soon as the pigeons were through the clouds, the way home was followed without any problems.The third group decided to look for the way home by staying above the clouds. It was astonishing to see that at approx. 2000 metres high they just flew over their loft without making any preparations to descend, as if they didn’t know that they were close to their loft. They flew further, almost 20 kilometres over the sea, till they suddenly turned 180 degrees and started descending. Presumably this was the first chance this group of pigeons had to descend without having to go through the clouds. Subsequently this last group of pigeons also reached their loft without any problems.
A fascinating system from which undoubtedly many surprising conclusions will follow.