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The breeding ground of legends

Published on 27/07/2020

With less than a month to go until the 51st edition of La Solitaire du Figaro get underway, orgnisers OC Sport Pen Duick are working full steam towards the Grand Departure on August 30th in the Bay of Saint-Brieuc.

Around 30 solo sailors will be on the startline for what is promising to be an extra special edition and after months of uncertainty, the skippers are now confidentially working hard to make up for lost time on the water.

Known as the world’s toughest, annual solo sailing race, a fleet that includes some of the world’s best ocean racers will line-up against first time rookies, as they take on 1,830 miles of single-handed racing.

Over the last 50 years, La Solitaire du Figaro has been the proving ground of some of Frances greatest offshore sailors. There will no doubt be interest in Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) and Yann Eliès (Quéguiner Matériaux - Leucémie espoir) – both former winners of La Solitaire. To say their credentials are rock solid would be an understatement. Le Cléac’h has won La Solitaire du Figaro twice, first in 2003 and then again in 2010. In 2016/17 he set a new Vendée Globe solo round the world record of 74 days, 3 hours and 35 minutes. Eliès has won La Solitaire an impressive three-times, his first in 1997. He also finished fifth in the last Vendée Globe, and he says La Solitaire is the first stepping-stone to the pinnacle round the world race. “Despite the length of the event and the technical nature of the boats, La Solitaire du Figaro and the Vendée Globe are two very close races: adversity, learning and strategy are identical. While there are other ways to get there, La Solitaire really is the most complete preparation you can find class to perform there.”

No less than 10 of the contenders are former stage winners who will all be sure to have the bit between their teeth, perhaps no more so than Royer Group - Secours Populaire skipper, Anthony Marchand: “A 2nd and a 3rd place in the last two editions puts me as one of the strong contenders in the race. Now I don’t stress myself. On this boat, speed is a guarantee of success, but lucidity and knowledge of the terrain, especially on round stages are also essential. I want it and I’m fresh,” Marchand commented.

Christian Le Pape, director of the Pôle France Course au Large, where the last 15 winners of La Solitaire du Figaro train, says it’s not just the old guard we need to watch out for, with the foil-assisted Figaro Bénéteau 3 playing to the skills of a younger generation. “The new Figaro Bénéteau 3 gives foiling specialists an advantage. Young people therefore have a stronger sensitivity than older ones, but La Solitaire is not just about speed, it is also strategy and positioning,” he explained.

The recent form of some of the up and coming talent would suggest this to be the case. Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Espoir), recent winner of the Solo Maître CoQ, has a windsurfing background; Sam Goodchild (Leyton), winner of the Drheam Cup is kitesurf enthusiast; while Pierre Le Boucher (Guyot environment), Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019) and Xavier Macaire (SNEF Group) made their names in the 470. “The boat is larger than the old one, the feeling of gliding is important. To be successful, you must first be in the right rhythm: have self-confidence, be well prepared and be familiar with the weather patterns on the course. It’s really a whole, the goal is to reduce the amount of the unforeseen,” explained Laperche at the start of the season.

The international line-up is arguably stronger than ever, with the UK’s Sam Goodchild standing out as one to watch following his recent Drheam Cup victory. Goodchild will have the company of two of his former Offshore Academy teammates; Alan Roberts (UK), who finished 15th in last year’s La Solitaire and was the top ranked international competitor; and Jack Bouttell (AUS), who won the Rookie division in 2013, and has since gone on to win the pinnacle fully-crewed round the world race, The Ocean Race.

Ireland will have two representatives on the start line in first-timer Kenneth Rumball, and experienced hand Tom Dolan, who finished an encouraging second place in the Drheam Cup in the Duo Class. And from Italy, Alberto Bona (Sebago) is no longer a rookie as he prepares for his second La Solitaire.

This year’s edition will include three classic stages of 500 miles or more, and one final 24-hour sprint, with the course taking just under a month to complete. Among the highlights, the Fastnet and Wolf Rock stand out on this racecourse that includes several Channel crossings, the need to deal with the shipping lanes and sandbanks all the way to Dunkirk, and then the rocks and tidal currents all the way down to Loire-Atlantique.

La Solitaire du Figaro programme:

Sunday August 30: Grand Départ of the 51st edition of La Solitaire du Figaro

Stage 1: Bay of Saint-Brieuc - Bay of Saint-Brieuc (September 2)

Stage 2: Bay of Saint-Brieuc (September 6) - Dunkirk (September 9)

Stage 3: Dunkirk (September 12) - Loire-Atlantique / Saint-Nazaire (September 16)

Stage 4: Loire-Atlantique / Saint-Nazaire (September 18) - Loire-Atlantique / Saint-Nazaire (September 19)

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