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Le Cléac’h, Eliès, Roaring In Their Forties, Leading to Dunkirk

Published on 08/09/2020

The leaders of Stage 2 of La Solitaire du Figaro have entered a final 90 nautical miles gybing slalom up the Opal Coast towards the Dunkirk finish line with Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) still holding a solid lead over three times overall winner Yann Eliès (Queguiner Matériaux- Leucémie Espoir). Racing downwind under spinnaker their course is tapered by the forbidden Traffic Separation Scheme zone as their northern boundary wall and land to the south. At its narrowest the passage is just three nautical miles wide at Cape Griz Nez north of Boulogne.

Le Cléac’h had about half an hour in hand when he passed the Antifer mark, off Le Havre, leading Eliès at around 0130hrs French time this morning. At the entrance to the restricted zone this morning Le Cléach was first to initiate the long, tiring sequence of gybes and lost some of his margin to the chasing pack, but as they fall in step with him, the two times overall leader Le Cléac’h should build his lead again.

It was a quick night traversing back across the Channel under gennaker averaging more than 11 knots at times, the skippers broad reaching under gennaker knowing they need to bank sleep while they can as there will be no further opportunity today before arriving in Dunkirk where they are expected in the early evening, current routing suggesting around 1800-1900hrs local time.

Le Cléach has led since Sunday evening and is on course to win his seventh stage win, the last being in the year of most recent overall win, 2013, and he could well take control of the general classification. Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF), the Stage 1 winner, has moved up through a very tightly compressed peloton to be five nautical miles behind Le Cléac’h, or about half an hour. Le Cléac’h started the stage 10 minutes and 20 seconds behind Macaire.

Britain’s Sam Goodchild (Leyton) is well placed in the pack, racing in fourth at 4.8 miles behind the leader, and within contact of second placed Eliès. Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) is 11th, 6.2 miles from Le Cléac’h.

Advantages will be gained by those who can manage their own lane, running the windward line closest to the TSS boundary giving the straightest, fastest trajectory. As it stands Le Cléac’h has enough margin to pick his course whilst in contrast in the cut and thrust of the pack it could get messy with places lost. And there is little margin for error as time penalties for going into the forbidden zone are punitive.

Of the sailors who did well on Stage 1, Loïs Berrehar, second, is lying 22nd over an hour behind the leaders. So too third placed on the general classification Alexis Loison (Région Normandie) is 21st beside him.

Experience has told on this leg so far, the only two overall winners are at the top of the fleet, proof that the duo in their forties are not about to give in to the younger generation yet.

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