Published on 11/09/2020
The third stage of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro which starts from Dunkirk on Saturday afternoon at 1600hrs local time is a 492 nautical miles stage to Saint Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire Estuary.
With three weather transitions on the forecasts and at least the same number of potential tidal traps lying in wait, including passages through both of the most notorious tidal races, first the Raz Blanchard – the Alderney Race – and then the Raz de Sein – between the Isle de Sein and the tip of Brittany – all compounded by an expected wind shutdown at the finish, this will very likely be the stage which proves conclusive, shaking up a very tight leaderboard.
Race leader Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire), the two times La Solitaire champion is the only skipper in the fleet with breathing space, having built himself a 37 minutes and 30 seconds margin over the first two legs, most of that from winning the stage into Dunkirk. But between second placed Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) and Fabien Delahaye (Laboratoires Gilbert) there are only 26 minutes.
Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) lies third, the highest ever overall position of British skipper at an intermediate stop on the annual French multi-stage race. In spite of being faced with such a complex, challenging stage, the 30 year old British soloist, remains resolute in his assertions that he feels no additional pressure and he will just take the same methodical approach, to sail his best leg and see how the numbers add up in Saint Nazaire.
Looking relaxed on the race dock in front of Dunkirk’s impressive city hall, Goodchild said, “I am trying to not let the pressure of being a good position get to me and really it is working. Even when it has been going well and or even badly, sometimes, I have been really enjoying it. I wanted to come here and show that I have improved as a sailor and that I can sail better, and I think I have done that already. That has gone very much to plan, and now in essence I will just carry on with what I have been doing and the way I have been doing it.”
On both stages so far Goodchild has climbed steadily up the fleet, most notably passing the three times La Solitaire winner Yann Eliès in the final three miles to the finish gun on Tuesday afternoon. He clearly has speed and is sailing to his game plan, he adds, “The two legs I have had so far I have not found myself being overtaken, I have not found myself in a situation going backwards and thinking ‘I don’t know what to do here.’ Tactically I have made some good calls….. and some bad calls, but everyone has, Armel included. You have to put the whole package together and there is no point at all in worrying about that now. I am confident in the boatspeed I have, in the two legs I have sailed and the way I have been sailing.”
Most of the skippers will contend there is no such thing as a typical La Solitaire. But, like last year, there are some very good La Solitaire sailors deep in the field, having made no glaring errors but finished right down the finishing order on one or other of the legs. Goodchild reflects: “It is quite revealing to me when I read interviews with other skippers who have won legs before or won the event before and they are a long way down the standings and they are saying they are not upset or anything, they are happy with the way they are sailing. It shows how level the playing field is on this race.”
He is quite content with his situation in the fleet, considering to himself that there is less pressure on him going into this stage, “To myself and my peers here I have shown I can do good results and I can win. Now I just need to go and do it again. When I was in the Figaro before when I was 20 or 21 there was the pressure, you were thinking ‘right, I need to make a result now because it will make your career.’ I have eliminated that out of my mind now.”
From Saturday’s start gun there is no let up for the 34 strong fleet. They have to tack upwind, against the tidal current in a narrow corridor bound by the shipping lane to their north.
The tide turns against the fleet at half an hour after the start and from there it is upwind, uptide for the next six hours until 0030hrs, certainly to the corner at Cap Griz Nez. A transition through a high pressure ridge means light winds at the end of the first night. During the early morning the wind goes from SW’ly through 180 degrees, into the east, but the transition will not be simple and will surely reshuffle the pack.
Then it is light downwind sailing in 10 knots or less down to the Raz Blanchard where they should reach early Monday morning. But the race could well be decided off the Raz de Sein off Ushant where the wind is due to switch again to the south and remain very light.
Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) is well placed going into the penultimate stage in 11th, he too promises to keep sailing the way he has been. Having returned a 10th in the first leg and 11th in the second one, Dolan says, “I am feeling good, I will just take it as it comes. I will have a bit of a look at the standings but I try to sail my own leg, but if it gets towards the end it is always worth knowing who is around you on the leaderboard.”
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