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Ice cool Horeau lays down the gauntlet on final La Solitaire du Figaro Paprec stage

Last Thursday and Friday Roscoff may have yielded one of the slowest and most frustrating finishes to a stage in the long history of the race, long hours of windless Doldrums leaving many of the pre-race favourites becalmed. In a three week, three stage solo race which is usually won or lost by minutes, some of the race stars were rendered more than a dozen hours behind the top three finishers.

But today the Bay of Morlaix – one of Brittany’s most important sailing hubs which has produced solo offshore stars such as Armel Le Cléac’h, Jérémie Beyou and Nico Troussel - atoned somewhat, by giving the 54th La Solitaiare Figaro Paprec fleet a great send off on to what still promises to be a slow, problematic 470 miles decisive final stage to Piriac-sur-Mer, just north of Saint Nazaire on the Loire Atlantique coast.

In 12-14kts of SW’ly wind, a warm sun lost at times behind an occasionally swirling sea mist – the fleet took on a around a short circuit in the Bay. And it was Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire) – who lies second on the general classification – who laid down the gauntlet with an immaculate display of round-the-buoys precision and slick, smooth solo boathandling.

In front of knowledgeable, partisan La Solitaire fans on and off the water, Horeau, 34, highlighted why he is one of the pre-race favourites, leading by a few boatlengths ahead of young Basile Bourgnon (EDENRED) – the 22 year old Stage 2 winner who is his nearest title rival and 26 year old Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie), last year’s runner up who is one of many favourites languishing in the depths of the fleet, more than half a day behind the GC leaders.

With little to lose because the deltas through the fleet are now so big, the fleet showed some urgency on the start line, resulting first in a general recall and then three skippers jumping the gun when this concluding stage finally got away at a little after 1430hrs local time.

The opening section of the leg takes them around the headland of NW Brittany into one of the most technically challenging regular Figaro playing fields – the highly tidal Chaussée de Sein and the Pointe de Raz - whilst negotiating a high pressure ridge of light winds which will slow the leaders and compress the fleet. The southernmost turning mark is between the entrance to the Gironde and Arcachon.

Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan), the Stage 1 winner who saw his chances of an overall place on the podium evaporate in the windless, sticky mess overnight Thursday, is gunning to finish on the podium on this stage, one of many top Figarists now left to salvage their pride and their morale with a strong final leg.

“It is looking light, it is looking flukey, it is looking complicated and at the end there will still be a lot of time difference but hopefully not another 15 hours.” Smiled Dolan as he cast off, “ There is a ridge of high pressure which we have to get across in the west of Brittany and whoever gets out of that first will get rich, a ‘rich get richer’ scenario. I have only had two nights in a bed and so I am a bit tired. Last week was a busy one, but this is a new week, a new leg and now I have to just look at each leg individually, and not be emotional at all, just concentrate on the processes.”

“It's going to be interesting along this north coast of Brittany in and out the rocks, but it won't be much easier afterwards because this ridge means uncertainty on the second half of the course. We have to play with the land breeze and the sea, thermal breeze, the calm areas we can’t avoid and the currents. I think we can expect a lot of stop-starts but also very little sleep because it will be difficult to maintain any kind of rhythm.”

Dolan was eighth at the first turning mark and well in the match.

Horeau, 34, has the bit between his teeth. Despite a strong early start to the season he lost his sponsor but was almost immediately called by Banque Populaire – sponsors of Armel Le Cléac’h who won his third La Solitaire du Figaro in their colours in 2020 – who wanted to make a return to the pinncacle solo, multi-stage offshore one design race.

The French racer from La Trinite whose career best is second in 2014 on the Figaro BÉNÉTEAU 2s – had all the ingredients to win last year and was tipped to do so but finished 13th. He has podiumed on all his solo Figaro races this season, and, as he docked out said, “I am where I want to be. I am approaching this last stage in the same way as I have the first two, I was with my mental coach just now and we said to ourselves that we had to do the same thing as I have from the beginning. That is what has worked since the start of the season. The objective is always the same, to have fun. I would like to let go a little more on this stage. Physically I am as good as before the start of the first stage. Mentally I even feel better, I am less stressed, more confident.”

Top of the General Classification Bourgnon headed out today with a lead of 8 minutes and 55 seconds over Horeau whilst Loïs Berrehar (Skipper MACIF 2022) is third 32 minutes and 42 seconds behind the top placed Bourgnon, who said,

“After winning a stage I am now able to approach this final one like the other two stages , that is to say in my own way, without restrictions because I am not sure I know how to do this and that would put pressure that I do not need.”

Before the start there was a collision between Cap Horn (Laurent Givry) and J'M Garnier (Maël Garnier). Garnier damaged two aft stanchions and carried on. Givry had a damaged foil and bowsprit and returned to port to repair. He left again around 1630hrs but is racing ‘hors concours’ as he had not crossed the start line so does not rank as a starter.

They said: Susann Beucke GER (This Race is Female): "There was a little time to recover from a devastating leg. But I have to have dealt with that, there is no alternative. There has been so little time I have not had time to think about things and sometimes in sport it is better not to think about things at all. (laughs). I am ready. It is going to be very, very random and for me it is the last chance for me to prove that actually I have really, really been working on my sailing over the last year. Luck? I don’t believe in luck, I believe in being really well prepared. I have to do better. This is a race when you can’t think about giving up. If you think about giving up you are already giving up. Until the end you have to stay focused and not have the thought of I could give up. You can win until the end. I have no pressure at all, there is pressure on other boats but not me.”

Nils Palmieri SUI (Teamwork): “I feel much better now than during the last few days, that last leg was so very hard for us and especially the likes of Tom Dolan who is one of the other top international skippers. I will try to do my best to finish my Solitaire du Figaro on a high note and I will continue to sail my own race, doing my own thing. I am not looking for an overall result, I want to finish in a good mood. The general classification is finished for me I will sail in my own style, do my own thing when I want.”

Ben Beasley NZL (Ocean Attitide): "I just want to get this leg over and done with and get finished. I feel like I have only just finished the last stage and here were go again. It might take a while to adapt into this leg because I am fatigued. I need to keep it simple, stay focused and try to stay with the fleet and stay out of the TSS’s by staying awake! I had a 15 hours sleep when I got in and that was very much needed."

Piers Copham GBR (Les Voiles des Anges): “I have learned lessons on every leg so far and on the last leg I probably made the fewest mistakes but now I need to learn to just sail faster, that is to trim better and understand how to make the boat go better, that can be just a couple of centimetres on the mainsheet for example. I need to have more accurate target speeds and work to them.”