Gilmore and Fitzgibbons set for title showdown
Stephanie Gilmore can clinch a fifth surfing world title at the penultimate tour event in France this week but fellow Australian Sally Fitzgibbons is determined to send the race to a thrilling finale.
Gilmore's destiny is largely in her own hands and, if she wins the Roxy Pro Biarritz, Fitzgibbons would need to finish second to send the world title tussle to the Nike US Open starting on July 30.
Last year was the first time Gilmore failed to win the world title since entering the tour, having racked up four straight since debuting in 2007.
However, the defending champion at Biarritz stormed back into form this season with two first place finishes, a second and two quarter-final appearances.
"I haven't spent much time thinking about the end results as I feel you start to lose focus on what you actually need to do when you start that," Gilmore said.
"Obviously, though, the emotions are warm.
"Sally (Fitzgibbons) is an incredible athlete, a wonderful surfer and she's driven to succeed.
"You can never underestimate her or any of the girls for that matter."
Fitzgibbons has had another consistent season after winning at Bells Beach and Rio earlier in her campaign, but must perform under pressure in France if she's to push for a maiden world crown.
A two-time runner-up, Fitzgibbons is desperate to end her run as bridesmaid.
"A world title would obviously be the dream outcome of any season, but there's a lot of hard work to be done before looking that far ahead," Fitzgibbons said.
"I'm stoked with the way I've built throughout the year so far and I'm feeling stronger as the year goes on. Being in the title race for the past few years has definitely given me a lot of confidence in knowing my surfing is on the right track.
"The next two events are going to be really exciting. I think whatever position you are in going into the last couple of events, you have to own it and make it work for you.
"This time around, it will be the come-from-behind win if I get there, which does spur me on for sure. I love being the chaser."
At the moment it's a two horse race for the world title, but if Gilmore finishes third or lower in France, she'll leave the door open for Hawaiian Carissa Moore or American Courtney Conlogue to also join the battle at Huntington Beach, California.