Linda Algotsson’s gutsy cross-country performance in the closing stages of a thrilling but baking hot cross-country day at the FEI Eventing World Cup final in Pau, France, has kept her on target to retain her title.

But, as predicted, the optimum time of 7min 34sec proved elusive. Only three riders achieved it — trailblazer Berenice Villoing, ninth, Sonja Johnson, 10th, and Benoit Parent, 12th. Linda’s 6sec over time means that Belgium’s leading rider Karin Donckers, who clocked just 0.8 on the Irish-bred Gormley, is breathing down her neck, just 0.3pen in arrears.

Pia Pantsu is right behind in third after a typically flamboyant performance on Ypajo Karuso. Either one of these three girls would make a worthy winner, though all are guarded about their chances in the final show jumping phase tomorrow (Sunday). Less than a show jumping rail separates the top four so World champion Jean Teulere, fourth, has an excellent chance.

Karin has been working with Belgian international show jumper Philippe Lejeune after a disaster at the Punchestown Europeans last year when she and Gormley dropped out of the individual medals.

“At Punchestown, it was the show jumping that was the disappointment, then at Athens it was the dressage,” said Karin ruefully. “If only I could combine all the good bits I would have won medals both times, so who knows what will happen here!”

Linda was also cautious. “My Fair Lady jumps 1.40m at home in Sweden but after cross-country anything might happen. She can get long and careless and may well have two fences down. But I have enjoyed yesterday and today, so we’ll see.”

The battery on Linda’s stopwatch failed while she was on course today, but she dismissed thoughts that it might have affected her time. “I don’t think I could have done anything differently. I didn’t think the course would suit My Fair, but the twists helped to get her back to me as she can get long and strong. She jumps well, she’s brave and she has a long stride.”

Kai Ruder’s prediction that “things would change” after the cross-country proved prophetic when he relinquished his runner-up position after being unseated at the pimple in the first water (9b) and Matt Ryan lost his chances when running past the fence on Bonza Puzzle.

British riders produced a better result than 2003 in as much as 50% of them — Leslie Law and Zara Phillips — finished the second phase, but it was hardly a stellar day for the British camp. Pippa Funnell withdrew Viceroy who, as she suspected, was definitely lame on cross-country morning.

Polly Stockton had a run-out with Sir Lancelot at one of the many corners on Pierre Michelet’s exciting cross-country course and then the reins shot over the horse’s head when he pecked. Hauling on one rein, Polly ended up in the crowd and performed an involuntary circuit of the steeplechase course before calling it a day.

Zara’s otherwise good ride on Springleaze Macaroo was marred by a run-out at 9b. She did not get the best of turns after dropping off the preceding bank and was unable to retrieve her reins, which allowed Springleaze Macaroo to run past the fence.

Leslie Law is in 15th place overnight after a brilliant partnership-forming ride on Coup de la Cour. This was quite a course on which to find out a new ride – US team trainer Mark Phillips described the first 12 fences as “as serious as anything seen this year” – but, after a cautious start, the pair grew in confidence to record an excellent clear.

“He’s a very good horse,” said Leslie delightedly. “I have promised Jeremy Lawton that I will take his two grey horses to Badminton, so I hope to take Coup de la Cour to Lexington. I set out carefully here because I wanted to see what I’d got, but he doesn’t question anything and has a wonderful gallop, so I was able to just get on and ride.”

Full results on www.event-pau.fr