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French team Beijaflore crowned new champions of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour

by Oman Sail 17 Feb 19:56 GMT 4-17 February 2018

French team Beijaflore were today crowned the new champions of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour ending a four-year winning streak for rivals EFG Bank Monaco as the regatta came to a climax in Muscat, Oman.

Valentin Bellet's polished outfit took the spoils in the Gulf classic, revamped for 2018 to feature a fleet of super-fast Diam 24 trimarans doing battle in five long 'coastal raids' and five short, intense stadium race series at venues all over Oman.

The new format demanded strength, skill and tenacity from the eight international crews competing for the coveted top spot while also showcasing Oman's natural beauty.

Over the course of the 14 day-campaign Beijaflore were models of consistency, dominating three coastal raids plus the Salalah stadium racing in conditions that ranged from light and tactical to epic.

They won a third of all 24 races and finished in a podium position in all but seven races – an impressive scorecard as the team now turns its attention to the Tour Voile, in France, the highlight of the Diam 24 season.

Thierry Douillard's EFG Bank Monaco, winners of every EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour since 2013, took the runners-up spot with five individual race wins and two coastal raid victories. Third place went to Averda, led by British two-time Olympian Stevie Morrison.

"We are really happy to win EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour," said Beijaflore skipper Bellet, 26, from La Rochelle. "We came here wanting to win and we pulled it off. On paper we have a good advantage, but the reality is that on the water it was very close between all the teams.

"We have a very good team, we were well prepared, we fought for every place in every race. This is ultimately what made the difference."

Buoyed by a third-place finish in the 2017 Tour Voile, Beijaflore set an early benchmark with victories in both the coastal raid and stadium racing in Salalah, adding coastal raid wins in Duqm and Ras Al Hadd.

EFG Bank Monaco, meanwhile, started on the back foot with sixth in the Salalah stadium racing series.

Douillard's crew, including former match racing world champion Mathieu Richard and one of Oman Sail's top sailors, Ali Al Balushi, answered back as the Tour moved north, winning stadium racing in Duqm and the coastal raid in Masirah Island.

French team chucked their hat in the ring with a stadium race victory in Masirah, while Averda claimed the top spot for the inshore action in Sur.

A win in the fifth coastal raid to Muscat's old town of Muttrah, framed by the stunning Al Hajar mountains, gave EFG Bank Monaco a final boost but by this point Beijaflore's lead was unassailable.

The final podium positions were confirmed when the fifth and final round of stadium racing was cancelled due to lack of wind.

Bellet added: "This event has been fantastic training for the Tour Voile – in France now it is very cold and we can't sail very often but here it's possible to race every day against some of the top teams and discover this beautiful country. It's the perfect preparation for us."

The EFG Bank Monaco crew will now rejoin Averda's sailors, including Abdulrahman Al Mashari, to form a formidable Oman Sail Tour Voile squad which will aim to improve on last year's fifth-place finish.

"We had a big fight with Beijaflore and Averda for the podium spots and we're happy with second," said Douillard, who will lead Team Oman Sail's Tour Voile campaign. "We're still a little bit behind Beijaflore but we had some great days and won a few acts.

"It's very positive for EFG Bank Monaco, Averda and Team Oman Sail. We chose to split our Oman Sail team into two for this regatta to give everyone more time on the water as we work towards our main goal, the Tour Voile, and it worked – everyone improved, and we've sailed at a pretty high level throughout the two weeks.

"It's also clear that the new format of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour was a great success."

Five race wins for Matthieu Souben's against two for Bernard Stamm's Cheminees Poujoulat decided the tie for fourth place, while young guns Lorina Golfe du Morbihan, all under the age of 21, finished sixth.

All-woman crew DB Schenker, skippered by Volvo Ocean Race star Elodie-Jane Mettraux and featuring Omani sailors Marwa Al Khaifi and Tamathir Al Balushi, were just pipped to seventh by EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour veteran Cedric Pouligny's all-Omani crew on Renaissance.

A special prize-giving ceremony to celebrate the achievement of the sailors and the success of the new-look EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour was held at Muscat's National Museum of Oman, opposite Sultan Qaboos bin Said's Grand Palace. The awards were presented by His Excellency Sayyid Saud Bin Hilal Bin Hamad Al Busaidi, Minister of State and Governor of Muscat.

EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour overall results:

Beijaflore (Valentine Bellet/FRA) – 14.5pts
EFG Bank Monaco (Thierry Douillard/MON) – 23.5pts
Averda (Stevie Morrison/GBR/OMA) – 28.5pts (Matthieu Souben/FRA) – 37pts
Cheminees Poujoulat (Bernard Stamm/SUI) - 37pts
Lorina Golfe du Morbihan (Solune Robert/FRA) – 37.40pts
Renaissance (Cedric Pouligny/OMA) – 59.5pts
DB Schenker (Elodie-Jane Mettraux/GER) - 66pts

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