When Belgium Olympian Stanny van Paesschen took over the role of chef d’equipe for the Mexican team in 2017, they were already on an upswing.
The year prior, when USA’s Norman Dello Joio was at the helm, the Mexicans put paid to a 26 year Nations Cup drought with their historic win at Langley, B.C.’s Thunderbird Show Park.
From that spark of success, a wild fire broke out—and it has everything to do with van Paesschen.
Because Mexico’s current captain didn’t just blow on the embers, he poured gasoline on the logs and then struck a match. How else do you explain three CSIO5* Nations Cup victories, in three countries, with three almost entirely different combinations of riders in the space of eight months from a team with a previously lacklustre record?
The underdog story of the century started in Dublin, August 2018.
Represented by up and comer Eugenio Garza Perez (22) and veteran teammates Federico Fernandez (50), Patricio Pasquel (46) and Enrique Gonzalez (54)—a three veterans to one developing rider strategy favored by the Americans—team Mexico pulled off the ultimate blindside, winning the final leg of the most competitive division (Europe 1) in the Nations Cup Series.
It was nothing short of heroic.
And it was just the start.
The team returned in 2019 to win the first leg of their home division (North & Central America and Caribbean) in America. This time is was four riders under age 30—Garza Perez, Fernando Martinez Sommer (30), Juan Jose Zendejas Salgado (26) and Manuel Gonzalez Dufrane (25)—who answered the call; Garza Perez the only repeat performer from Dublin.
Once again they were up against teams with much more experience and depth, including a stacked deck from USA that featured Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Laura Kraut and Lucy Deslauriers. And once again, they won.
If the Mexicans were beginning to feel like a nuisance to the Canadians and the Americans, they stamped their card as an official threat on Sunday.
Debuting yet another combinations of riders—this time Lorenza O’Farrill (50) and Salvator Oñate (41) entered the fray with Gonzalez Dufrane and Pasquel—they claimed their third CSIO5* win in less than a year, this time on home soil at Club Hipico Coapexpan, Mexico, the second qualifying event of the Division. In doing so, they’ve all but stamped their ticket to the Final in Barcelona, with a qualifying leg in Langley to spare.
Now, van Paesschen, in his characteristically unassuming manner, will tell you that Mexico’s newfound success is all due to the riders.
“It’s very simple. It’s the riders in the ring who must do it, it’s not me,” he said after their victory in Coapexpan, before thanking the team’s grooms.
“Okay, sometimes you need to be lucky to choose a team. But in the field it is only the riders who are responsible for the result and they do that very well. For me, it is an honor to be with this team.”
If that was all there was to it, however, Mexico would have had a stronger record before van Paesschen came onto the scene.
There are likely multiple factors contributing to the sea change for Mexico. Maybe it’s the sport psychologist they’ve added to the team. Maybe it’s the quiet confidence that comes with having a sportsman of van Paesschen’s record standing alongside you. Or perhaps, it’s the Belgian’s propensity to throw his full weight of his support behind his riders.
Where many team decisions get bogged down in politics and ego, van Paesschen is a force of encouragement, offering up sage advice like, “Have fun! Enjoy yourself.” While that might not sound particularly helpful in technical terms, it’s a confidence boosting statement of belief in the skills of his riders.
And more often than not, that one quality is the deciding factor in a rider’s performance.
Whatever the case, it’s a strategy he’s clearly committed to continuing.
During Sunday’s press conference, van Paesschen singled out O’Farrill, the “Queen of Coapexpan” this week, with a victory in Friday’s Grand Prix and a single time fault in the Nations Cup, to publicly announce her spot on the Pan American team. It’s an unprecedented move for a chef and a public declaration of his support for the team’s sole female rider in current rotation.
“I think they all did a great job, Lorenza in particular,” said van Paesschen. “Last year, she said to me, ‘Yes, it’s a man’s world.’ It could be, but she was the queen of the show—she was the best and she proved it—and with this I want to also announce that she will also be one of our members for the Pan American Games!”
With a vote of confidence like, it’s not hard to see why you’d want van Paesschen in your corner.