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Tour de France à la Voile Act 5 - Team SFS come back strong in Les Sables d'Olonne

by Andi Robertson on 17 Jul 17-18 July 2017

After being penalised nine points in Arzon-Port du Crouesty for racing with an anchor which weighed in two kilos less than the prescribed minimum and so ceding the overall lead on the 40th Tour de France à la Voile, Team SFS bounced back today in the most emphatic fashion in Les Sables d'Olonne, triumphing in the Coastal Raid of around 30 nautical miles or about 3hrs and 40 minutes of racing.

It is Team SFS' third win on the Tour, adding to their Dunkirk double where they won both the opening Coastal and Stadium Super Final.

In fierce sunshine and light to moderate sea breezes of 5-12kts which created many transition zones and consequently spread the fleet across the Bay of Les Sables, Sofian Bouvet, Noé Delpech and Achille Nebout fought back from a terrible start today to finish in style in the shadow of Les Sables d'Olonne's legendary canal which every four years sends off and welcomes back the solo Vendée Globe round the world racers.

But with second place today Trésors de Tahiti retain the blue gennaker, flown by the Tour leader, as the nine Act Tour Voile passes its theoretical midpoint today in Act 5. They lead the General standings by five points from Team SFS.

Skipper Bouvet said, "That is one that raises our heads again. We started last but stayed left of the fleet and got much more wind with that group. That got us back in the match again. It was a black day for us yesterday and so this is good for the confidence of the team. Today we just wanted to be regular, we focused on our communication, on keeping our eyes out of the boat to see what was going on, and keeping fast at all times."

"It is perfect here for us. It feels just like the Med!" Bouvet, a native of Antibes who trains with his team on their native Mediterranean, "And meantime it is a great battle with Trésors de Tahiti."

After taking the lead on the long eastwards leg to Bourgenay Team SFS increased their margin successively on each leg around the fifth Coastal Raid of the Tour. By that furthest east turning buoy Team SFS were more than two minutes clear. Between the famous Nouch buoy – finishing line for the Vendée Globe solo round the world solo race – and the Les Sables d'Olonne buoy they more than doubled that to over five minutes. Back at Les Petites Barges mark for the second time their cushion was more than 11 minutes.

But their closest rivals, beneficiaries of first overall at the end of Act 4, Arzon, Trésors de Tahiti, chased hard and crossed the finish line second. Team Occitanie Sud de France scored their best result of the Tour so far with third place.

France's four times Nacra 17 world champion Billy Besson joined the Tour in Arzon-Port du Crouesty, stepping aboard Team Occitanie Sud de France to make an immediate impact in the Qualifying stages of Act 4.

Sailing with two times 470 world championship runner up Pierre Leboucher and Maxime Garbay today Team Occitanie Sud de France finished third behind Team SFS. Tahitian native Besson joins second placed Plichart to ensure there are two Tahitian skippers on the Les Sables d'Olonne podium.

Team Occitanie Sud de France has at its heart a collective of 15 top and aspiring athletes in water and mountain sports who are based in the region between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. Round the world racer Kito de Pavant is the team's patron.

Besson, who struggled heroically to sixth place with Marie Riou in last year's Rio Olympic regatta sailing with a herniated disc in his back, joined his team after competing in The Bridge, the Ultim transatlantic race sailing with Thomas Coville on Sodebo' Ultim. The Tahitian helm has teamed up with Amelie Riou to campaign for the 2020 Olympics in the mixed multihull and before setting off on The Bridge was testing the newly foiling Nacra 17 with the French Sailing Team.

Besson, who like many top sailors missed last year's Tour due to the Olympic regatta said "I have a lot of sailing projects going on at the same time as the Nacra but because I was sidelined for so long (six months) because of my back operation, so now I need to do all that I can as much as I can. The new Nacra is a great boat, completely different from the previous one because the hull never touches the water and being so much faster it will be more dangerous. I sailed on the Tour in the Diam 24 two years ago. While the boats have not evolved much the competition is particularly tough."

He summarised their race, "It was a difficult coastal race for the first and for the last. The wind was changing throughout which created a lot of twists and turns. It was a lot of stress, a lot of pressure. For now third is a good result but tomorrow is another day! "

Team Oman Sail were first to recognise the additional breeze blowing off the shore accelerating out of the canal and along the sea wall and appeared to sail away from the fleet, but that breeze died for them and they lost out much of their initial gain while SFS and Tahiti, a few lengths to windward escaped. But Oman Sail remained solid around the challenging course, unfortunately just on the wrong side of a split in the fleet and crossed the finish eighth. They hold third overall, 16 pts behind the leaders.

Oman Sail's co-skipper Thierry Douillard summed up, "It was a complicated, stressful, exhausting day... These are the most difficult conditions. We had a nice start but we did not manage to escape with Team SFS and Trésors de Tahiti, we missed a puff and never saw them again. We found ourselves in the pack, with very little wind. I'm not happy with the day. But the damage is not too bad with our eighth place. "

Racing in Les Sables d'Olonne continues Tuesday with Nautical Stadium racing.

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