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La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro - Leave Nothing On the Race Course

by François Quiviger 13 Sep 2018 21:30 BST 13 September 2018
Sebastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance) wins Stage 3 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro © Alexis Courcoux

Sébastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance) heads out his native Vendée coast this evening with his first overall La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro overall title within his grasp. The 28-year-old who grew up in Les Sables d'Olonne has a cushion of 35 minutes and 45 seconds over second placed Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF), also a Vendée skipper whose home, training club is Les Sables d'Olonne.

To most long-time La Solitaire spectators, those who have witnessed Simon's approach to solo offshore racing and his assured command of this 49th La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, the deal is all but done. If he sails like he has on the first three legs, 4th, 1st, 1st, the title is his.

The 165 nautical miles tour of the Vendée coast out from Saint Gilles Croie de Vie, down to the Ile de Ré (which is attached to the land at La Rochelle by the imaginatively named Pont Ile de Ré), west out to the Rochebonne bank then upwind to the Ile d'Yeu before the kite reach and run back into Saint Gilles Croie de Vie starts at 1830hrs (local/UTC+2hrs) this Thursday evening and is forecast to take 24 hours and should be contested in very favourable 10-20kts of north to northwesterly wind.

The battle for the second and third podium places remain very open. Twice on the overall podium in the last three years Macaire - who was second to Simon in March on the Solo Maitre CoQ race on nearly the same waters - has four minutes on third placed 33-year-old Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire) who won Stage 1 into his home waters of Saint Brieuc.

Macaire acknowledged his chances of winning overall may have gone, "As long as the Solitaire is not over, it is still there to be won. But you have to be realistic Seb has a lot of margin and it's hard to catch up on a 24-hour leg. But is I said it was over there would be no point in going out there. The course and the weather don't lend themselves to big differentials. But I will fight to the end without taking any risks. I have a podium to hold on to and I have competitors very close to me. The objective was the podium and I do not want to ruin everything now." Charlie Dalin, the 34-year-old from Le Havre, is fourth and needs to make up six minutes and 22 seconds on third placed Marchand if he is to make the podium for a record fifth time in a row.

There may be just 13 minutes between second and fifth, after three stages, some 1400 miles and nine days and 16 hours of racing, but the differentials on these short 24 hours sprint legs are often measured only in fractions of a minute. Key on this coastal grand prix circuit might be the start line and the short upwind beat to he the first mark. After that the downwind under spinnaker to the Ile de Ré will offer the tactical options of more pressure offshore, a beneficial shift inshore. But with wind all the way around the course a slow start could be terminal.

To date it has been a hugely challenging La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, very demanding and competitive in every aspect. Experience has not necessarily prevailed. The 'Don' of the fleet, Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat), 46-years-old is fifth on his 17th participation and has had a good La Solitaire but Alexis Loison (Custo Pol), 34-years-old on his 13th race is 16th overall. Erwan Tabarly (Armor Lux), 44-years-old lies 18th on his 16th race, and Fred Duthil (Technique Voiles), the 45-years-old who had to retire from Stage 1, is 28th.

Briton Alan Roberts (Seacat Services), 28-years-old from Hayling Island, proved adept at damage limitation on Stage 3, coming back from more than twenty miles or potentially three hours behind the leaders. His career best - and the high water mark for British Solitaire sailing - is ninth. He is within eight minutes of eighth place and left the dock full of confidence this evening.

"After my first sleep yesterday I was pretty keen to get back out there straight away. I am really excited to be doing this very different leg, to be playing with less sleep. You cut back to the basics what you do on this stop. So there is no looking back at the last leg. I am going to sail as I know how to and how I do, so, relaxed and focused but I aim to play the game a bit harder. F*** it. Let's roll the dice a bit and go with the gut. I thought something the last time and didn't risk it and I decided to be more conservative. Maybe this time I will do what I feel I want to do. And if it doesn't work out. But if I can roll the dice a but more and get a good leg, then I can benefit overall."

The Vendée region is also on top in the Rookie division where Thomas Cardrin (Team Vendée Formation) has a two minutes lead over Lois Berrehar (Bretagne CMB Espoir). Briton Hugh Brayshaw (KAMAT) is on course to defend the top Amateur title he won last year, lying in 19th place overall.

Top rookie on Stage 3 Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) says he has proven himself with his 11th on the previous stage and does not feel so much pressure as he did when he left Ria Muros Noia last Saturday: "I am not thinking about pressure too much. The start will be important which has not been my strong point but I'll give it everything. I don't need the baot after this so I'll worry less about breaking it. I won't be taking any risks. I'm feeling grand."

They said...

Nick Cherry GBR (Redshift): "I like the short leg format and on that last leg it almost paid off to do something different to the herd. I won't do anything rash but with nothing to gain or to lose in terms of the overall, it would be good to finish with a good result."

Hugh Brayshaw GBR (KAMAT): "I have only really half looked at the overall times. I just want to go out and do my best. I want to finish on a high. From my point of view I have prove to myself I have the speed and am so much more confident. It has been a complete change this time, I have been much more comfortable on the water and it it finished here I would be OK with my result."

Joan Mulloy IRL (Taste the Atlantic-A Seafood Journey): "I really enjoyed the last leg, I had a race and I finished within 40 minutes of the winner and so that was the objective, I had a race I was in contact with other boats and that is where you learn so much more. You cannot take your foot of the gas, you learn so much from sailing along side guys who have been doing this for so long. The focus on the campaign was really to get here and to race. With Tom we are at the start of something for Irish sailing which is long term and sustainable.

How Many Years Does it Take to Make a Solitaire Champion?

It was back in 1990 that La Solitaire took place for the first time using the one-design Figaro Bénéteau designed by the Finot team in association with Jean Berret. Thirteen years later in 2003, the new Figaro Bénéteau 2 was designed by Marc Lombard. In all, that makes 28 editions on a one-design boats. Leaving skippers who have won twice (Armel Le Cléac'h, Nicolas Troussel, Nicolas Lunven) or three times (Michel Desjoyeaux, Jean Le Cam, Jérémie Beyou, Yann Éliès) to one side. How many goes does it normally take to win this exceptional event? Analysing the statistics, it comes to 6.17 attempts to come top of the overall rankings. The fastest to get to the top was Yves Parlier in 1991 on his second attempt, followed by Kito de Pavant in 2002, Michel Desjoyeaux in 1992 and Nicolas Lunven in 2009 (third attempt) then Franck Cammas in 1997 and Armel Le Cléac'h in 2003 (fourth attempt).

In other words, you really have to sail a lot of miles to stand out aboard these demanding boats. Sébastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance) is on his fifth attempt: 33rd in 2014, 33rd again in 2015, 11th in 2016, fourth in 2017. Winner of one leg (the second) in the 2015 event and winner of two legs in 2018 (2nd and 3rd legs), the skipper from Les Sables d'Olonne could bring the aforementioned average down before the new era begins with the Figaro Bénéteau 3 in 2019.

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