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La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro - 'King Of Biscay' Sébastien Simon has title in his reach

by François Quiviger 12 Sep 2018 18:00 BST 12 September 2018
Sebastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance) wins Stage 3 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro © Alexis Courcoux

Winning Stage 3 of the 49th Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, his second consecutive leg triumph across the Bay of Biscay, sees 28 year old Vendèe skipper Sébastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance) on the threshold of overall victory, carrying a solid 35 minutes lead into Thursday's 24hr sprint finale.

He becomes the first skipper to win consecutive stages on the same La Solitaire since Jérémie Beyou won three of four stages en route to his 2011 win, the second of his career tally of three.

Simon's back-to-back stage wins across Biscay were secured in vastly contrasting wind and sea conditions. Last week's southbound from Saint Brieuc to Ria Muros Noia was largely a downwind sleigh ride in 25-35kts.

The reciprocal northbound ascent was a 410 miles four-nights-at-sea light airs marathon chess match, seeking to avoid the worst of a high pressure ridge.

But twice now he has prevailed, thanks to raw speed in light and heavy airs, precise and patient long term strategic thinking, aligned to excellent focus and concentration.

Simon, who has a Koumoudjian IMOCA 60 under way and a solid financial package for the 2020 Vendée Globe, has already shown all the hallmarks of a La Solitaire champion, leaving himself with what should be a relatively straightforwards 165 miles circuit off the Vendee coast in order to seal his first overall La Solitaire title.

He will start with 35 minutes and 45 seconds in hand over Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF), 40 minutes on third placed Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire) and 46 minutes over four times overall podium finisher Charlie Dalin (Skipper MACIF 2015).

As the third stage finished in to Saint Gilles Croie de Vie early this morning Simon took the gun at 06:40.26hrs (local/UTC+2hrs) just before the late summer sun rose over the pretty Vendée coast town, to conclude a victory which, again, saw him in control of the fleet for over 200 miles, or most the second half of the course.

His stage victory is his third since 2015, when he rose to La Solitaire prominence by winning the La Coruna to Concarneau stage, keeping overall winner Yann Eliès behind him, also across Biscay.

Disarmingly direct but discrete and matter of fact, Simon summarised his win, "It is right to say this was a stage on which there were not big differences again at the finish, but overall I have strengthened my position and that means I can approach the last leg with some serenity. And this one is just 24 hours, by contrast with the others so far, it should be easy."

"I have felt good over the four nights at sea, but it was starting to be a bit painful. I saw whales and dolphins, it was nice. Two wins from three legs and three from five in my five years on the Figaro, I don't think many have done that." Simon stated, recounting his successes as matters of fact rather than any bragging. " And I did not just take the lead at the end of the stage, I found myself in the lead at 250 miles before the finish, when we were only making four knots. Mentally it was pretty tough but I just tried to focus on enjoying it and having fun and it went well." said Simon, visibly tired but serene this morning.

Dolan Top Rookie Irish skipper Tom Dolan, 33-years-old from County Meath, put the bitter disappointment of his first two legs behind him to finish 11th, first of the eight strong Rookie division. A former Mini class ace, Concarneau based Dolan stayed tight with the main group, showing good speed, composure and concentration to keep his rookie rivals behind him. The rookie class win allays the self doubt and disappointment he felt in Galicia after he had to retire from Leg 1 just after the first classification buoy when a spreader on his mast broke. Then he made a wrong strategic choice at Ushant on stage 2, and like others from his French training group, dropped more than 10 miles, to finish 25th.

Holding a celebratory breakfast beer Dolan smiled this morning, "This is good for the morale. My head was running at 90 miles an hour at that stopover thinking, having lots of doubts and thinking 'what am i doing here?" " The first night was key I suppose, a big part of the fleet went to the coast and I have been around that part of Spain a bit at night and I kinda knew not to go there. And the AIS helped. I saw them all stopped." He concludes, " But this sport is a bit mad isn't it. You have the big lows, I was really, really low and now I feel quite high. That is where we get so addicted."

Roberts Down But Still In the Match Although he finished into Saint Gilles Croie de Vie in a disappointing 28th place Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) and so will start Stage 4 in 13th place, he crossed the line this morning, having made up nearly 20 miles on the leaders, at 38 minutes behind winner Simon. The 28-year-old British skipper, who was seventh at the start of Stage 3 and fifth into Saint Brieuc, may have lost his opportunity of an overall podium finish, but he is still just 10 minutes shy of sixth place overall.

"It was a little bit disappointing" Roberts said, "It could have been worse. The race is about time and not positions. I think it is still tight on times and so a lot now rests on doing enough homework and getting as much rest as possible."

He explained how he lost contact with the pack off the corner of Spain. "There was a bit of a mini shutdown everyone piled up together. Then there was a bit of breeze in by the coast and i knew there was going to be two options, tacking off or staying in by the shore. I was not sure what was exactly going to pay as all the forecasts were predicting different things. I did want to go round the inside - that was my strategy - but then I saw the fleet tack offshore and doing six knots. I made the decision to play it safe and to try and rejoin the group which was a mistake. I should have stuck with my strategy rather than play it safe. The guy (Pierre Quiroga) who was just behind me there, popped out in second place here. Probably I feel victim to taking less risk when I should probably have risked more. "

Having fought among the leading pack for most of the last 48 hours of the stage, at one point holding fourth in terms of distance to this morning's Ile d'Yeu final turning mark, Nick Cherry dropped to 18th across the line. In in the close, compact peloton Cherry's final need to short tack back to the west to join the line up for the turn cost him places. Had the breeze swung more to the left and freed him, as he had hoped, then a place in the top ten might have been his.

The final stage, a 165 miles, 24 hours circuit out from and back to Saint Gilles Croie de Vie starts 1300hrs local time Thursday, meaning sleep and recovery is as much part of the final game as the racing on the water.

They said...

Tom Dolan IRL (Smurfit Kappa), Top Rookie, 11th overall on Stage 3: "It feels so good after the first two legs which were, all in all, a bit catastrophic. So this is good for the morale. My head was running at 90 miles an hour at that stopover thinking, having lots of doubts and thinking 'what am i doing here?' and stuff like that, questioning myself, so it is good to do a good leg like that. The first night was key I suppose, a big part of the fleet went to the coast and I have been around that part of Spain a bit at night and I kinda knew not to go there. And the AIS helped. I saw them all stopped. There was lot of decisions to be made, it was like a big game of chess. I am not too tired right now. Four nights lets you get into a bit of a rhythym. I slept quite well on the upwind leg to Isle d'Yeu. But this sport is a bit mad isn't it. You have the big lows, I was really, really low and now I feel quite high. That is where we get so addicted."

Nick Cherry GBR (Redshift), 18th, was fourth on rankings yesterday but lost on approach to Isle d'Yeu as had to tack up from below layline. "It could have been better it could have been worse. I just needed that left shift to come in a bit more and I might have been able to stay in the top ten. But it was nice to give it a go and be in the running. There was not too much of a chance to sleep as it was so shifty so I am pretty tired. I enjoyed it. It felt quite bleak leaving Spain for what I thought would be steady upwind for three days. But it was interesting. I think I maybe made five places coming in to Isle d'Yeu, so I can be reasonablhy happy. It feels better. I am happy enough."

Alan Roberts GBR (Seacat Services) was seventh after Stage 2 +49 minutes behind leader now 13th 1hr 27mins behind leader but still only 10 minutes off sixth place: " It was really tricky, very localised patches of breeze and calms. I felt I was sailing quick. I gained distance and then would find myself on the wrong side of a shift or a wind bend and that haunted me a bit. I am still going quick. Speed is not an issue. It was just so patchy with hundreds of metres of difference, you could sit and flap around with no wind and someone near you could sail away at four knots. Now it's eat, sleep, multiple sleeps. I will sleep, eat do some weather, sleep again, do more weather, dinner then a long sleep. I'll try and get another sleep before leaving tomorrow morning."

Stage 3 - Top 15 plus internationals:

1) Sébastien Simon - Bretagne CMB Performance finished at 06h 40m 26s
2) Pierre Quiroga - Skipper Espoir CEM CS finished at 06h 43'50'', at 03' 24'' behind winner
3) Gildas Mahé - Breizh Cola finished at 06h46'13'', at 05'47'' behind winner
4) Erwan Tabarly - Armor Lux finished at 06h 49'04'', at 08'38'' behind winner '
5) Pierre Leboucher - Guyot environnement finished at 06h49'16'', at 08'50'' behind winner
6) Xavier Macaire - Groupe SNEF finished at 06h 49'40'', at 09'14''behind winner
7) Anthony Marchand - Groupe Royer - Secours Populaire finished at 06h50'06'', at 09'40'' behind winner
8) Alexis Loison - Custo Pol finished at 06h 50'42'', at 10'16'' behind winner
9) Charlie Dalin - Skipper MACIF 2015 finished at 06h51'10'', at 10'44'' behind winner
10) Frédéric Duthil - Technique Voile finished at 06h53'02'', at 12'36'' behind winner
11) Tom Dolan - Smurfit Kappa finished at 06h 55'10'', at 14'44''behind winner - 1er Bizuth
12) Thierry Chabagny - Gédimat finished at 6h55'32'', at 15'06'' behind winner
13) Corentin Douguet - NF habitat finished at 6h56'01'', at 14'35 behind winner
14) Martin Le Pape - Skipper MACIF 2017 at 6h56'45'', at 16'19'' behind winner
15) Benjamin Dutreux - Sateco Team Vendée Formation 6h59'02'', at 18'36'' behind winner

18) Nick Cherry GBR (Redshift) finished 7h0'29"
28) Alan Roberts GBR (Seacat Services) finished 7h18'27"
31) Joan Mulloy IRL (Taste the Atlantic) finished 7h37'38"
32) Hugh Brayshaw GBR (KAMAT) finished 7h42'27"

Overall Standings - Top 10 and Internationals:

1) Sébastien Simon - Bretagne CMB Performance leader en 9j16h2'14''
2) Xavier Macaire - Groupe SNEF at 35'45''from leader
3) Anthony Marchand - Groupe Royer - Secours Populaire finished at 40'31'' from leader
4) Charlie Dalin - Skipper MACIF 2015 at 46'53'' from leader
5) Thierry Chabagny - Gédimat at 49'29'' from leader
6) Corentin Douguet - NF habitat at 1h17'35'' from leader
7) Pierre Leboucher - Guyot environnement at 1h18'26'' from leader
8) Eric Peron - Finistère Mer Vent at 1h18'48'' from leader
9) Benjamin Dutreux - Sateco - Team Vendée Formation at 1h19'4'' from leader
10) Martin Le Pape - Skipper MACIF 2017 at 1h21'38'' from leader

12) Thomas Cardrin – Team Vendée Formation at 1h24'47'' from leader – 1st Rookie
13) Alan Roberts GBR (Seacat Services) at 1h27'04" from leader
19) Hugh Brayshaw GBR (KAMAT) at 3h32'19" from leader
27) Joan Mulloy IRL (Taste the Atlantic-A Seafood Journey) at +11h 46m 19s
30) Nick Cherry GBR (Redshift) at +14h26'02"
31) Tom Dolan IRL (Smurfit Kappa) at +15h24'10"

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