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La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro 2019 Stage 3 Start - Light wind channel challenge

by La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro 16 Jun 20:25 BST 16 June 2019
Start of the Stage 3 - Solitaire Urgo Le Figaro 2019 - Roscoff © Alexis Courcoux

French 2012 Olympian Pierre Leboucher, who lies second overall, stole the limelight from local heroes Armel Le Cléach and Jérémie Beyou as the third stage of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro started on their home waters, the Bay of Morlaix in northern Brittany today, Sunday 16 June.

Leboucher, 28, who is racing his third La Solitaire, started smartly and established an early lead on the 10 mile showcase circuit before the 46-strong fleet left the famous rocky, tidal Finistère bay behind. It is on these waters which the current Vendée Globe champion Le Cléach, three times La Solitaire winner Beyou and past Figaro winner Nico Lunven all grew up as close friends and sparring partners. The opening, preliminary circuit of what promises to be a challenging, light winds 450-mile third stage from Roscoff to Roscoff, proved to be a perfect spectacle for the huge crowds which turned out on one of the most exciting days of the multi-stage annual race's ten day stop which incorporates two starts and two finishes.

Under leaden skies which parted periodically to allow slivers of sunshine to dapple the bay, Leboucher (Guyot Environment) underlined why he is presently the biggest threat to overall race leader Yoann Richomme, who started this stage with a comprehensive margin of two hours and 17 minutes. In 15 knots of southwesterly wind, by the first turning mark, after an exciting, competitive two mile beat, Leboucher had eked out a decent lead ahead of Eric Péron (French Touch). Briton Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) made his best start of the three stages so far and was fifth round the first two marks while compatriot Will Harris (Hive Energy) was in the top ten and going well. Surprisingly, Richomme started modestly and was nineteenth.

As he docked out Roberts, who is 12th overall in this years Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, explained the leg ahead: "This leg is a lot more tidal. Going through the Channel Islands will be key and thankfully this morning the weather forecasts starting to agree a bit more. We should see some more breeze to Videocoq the first mark (at Granville) nicely. Then to Alderney. There, you need to sniggle through to get the tide, if not there can be big differences there. Then there is the option to got north of the TSS. It will be dependent on the time you get there. For me this is not a high risk leg. It will be more of the same as I have been doing; stick with the pack and be conservative and fast. I am not going out to win this leg I am trying to stay in the bunch and let some of the top guys drop out of the bunch."

This third stage looks like it will be the critical decider of the four legs which comprise this 50th anniversary edition Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. It knits together some of the most renowned tidal passages in the west of the Channel and with light, unpredictable winds forecast including periods of calm, there will certainly be splits in the fleet which may extend to several hours.

Initially the fleet heads east on the heels of a solid breeze passing by the iconic Mont Saint Michel to turn at buoy by Granville where the wind is forecast to die. From there it is 60 miles up to Alderney opposite the Cherbourg peninsula and the infamous raz de Blanchard or Alderney Race where the tidal current sluices between the island and the Cap de la Hague.

Then it is 90 miles across the Channel, probably staying south of the Casquets TSS, although perhaps there might be more wind to the north. The northernmost turning mark is Hands Deep which is three miles to the northwest of Eddystone Light. The it is back across the Channel to the Fromveur mark between Ushant and the TSS, then to Chaussée de Sein (130 miles), through raz de Sein and the chenal de Four up to Portsall Grande Basse buoy (50 miles), repeating the same finish leg as Stage 2, in to Roscoff.

Weather advisor to some of the sailors Christian Dumand explained what is ahead: "The wind should decrease around Granville in the early morning. Then they go to the next mark with about 10 knots then to Hands Deep. But here, by Eddystone, is where the ridge will be encountered and here the wind will shift from the southwest to the northeast with very light winds. That will be one of the keys. The end of the race is very unsure. It should be northeasterly to come back to Ushant and then a little trough develops for the approach to the finish but we don't know where. The key may be this evening around Saint Brieuc before Granville because there could be no wind in the north. Then the current at Alderney will be key, and then the transition through the ridge tomorrow evening."

The overall race leader Richomme sounded confident as he left the dock this morning. "It does not look that bad going up to Alderney which we should get to tomorrow morning. I could be wrong, there could be a light patch on the bay going over there before Granville, but we might be OK and go through easily. Tomorrow morning we will be going straight into the tide going west towards Plymouth. That might be quite tricky. There might be the option to go north of the TSS. I probably won't do that except under extreme circumstances. The tricky part is the transition going south across the high pressure ridge. I think the first ones to pop out there will have the advantage, how big I am not sure."

Asked if he felt the pressure of leading into a leg which holds so many potential pitfalls, Richomme said: "I feel really confident. I take this leg by leg. I don't want to think about anything else. I know the ranking roughly but I don't look at it. I know each leg is hard enough and I take each leg at a time. I feel good. I know the key points. I am just aiming for the top ten. That is what I always do. And then for the first half of this race I will be just doing my race for sure. Then if I need to, like on the first one, I will control a little bit just to make sure I can control if I need to. I want to do my race. I don't want to do a race under pressure to watch everyone. There are just too many people. I will do my race."

In second place on the overall ranking, Leboucher is reckoned to be one of the rising stars of La Solitaire. Sixth at the 2012 Olympics in the 470 as helm with crew Vincent Garos, his coach from the Pôle Finistere Christian Le Pape says he is "a force of nature who has excellent control driving downwind, a finesse at the helm and intuitive sensations that make a big difference as the boat accelerates ".

Behind Leboucher in third, at two hours and 28 minutes behind Richomme is Armel Le Cléac'h who will be racing in his backyard on a course where rock hopping and hugging the coast to seek relief from the strong tides may be essential. A double winner of La Solitaire, once by just 13 seconds overall, the skipper from Saint Pol, the next town south of Roscoff, Le Cléac'h will be a threat on this stage, especially as the accumulated fatigue and stress impinges on the decision making processes.

'I'm not trying to win this leg just trying to let the other people make the mistakes' (from Alan Roberts Racing)

Alan Roberts is rested and ready to go as he heads into Leg 3 of the La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, that will see the fleet complete a 450nm course from Roscoff to Roscoff across the Channel to Plymouth on the South Coast of England and back again, the leg started at 1400 local time on Sunday 16 June.

With two legs already complete Alan sits 12th overall going into a leg with notorious tidal gates which can close, causing the loss of many hours with skippers having to anchor and wait until the tide turns back to their favourable direction. The start of the leg will see a fair breeze to take the fleet to Videscoq, the first mark, and then up to Alderney where Robert's explains we'll see the first potential separation in the fleet, 'That's when I think we'll start to see the first big differences you know if people manage to sniggle around with the tide or people get caught out behind the tide'.

Roberts has no intention of taking high level risks on this leg, he will leave that to his competitors, 'It's not a high risk leg it's going to be more of the same as I have been doing you know try and stick with the pack, try and stay conservative, try and stay fast and I'm not going out to win this leg, I'm going out to try and stay in the bunch and not loose contact and let a couple of the top guys drop out of the top bunch.'

Looking a few days into the leg and after the fleet round Hands Deep, the mark off Plymouth, the weather models are struggling to predict movement of a low pressure system, Roberts doesn't seem worried and plans to sail as fast as possible back across the Channel 'Once we are around Hands Deep up at Plymouth that's when the models start to diverge so at the moment not so sure what it's going to give, what it's going to do but I'm just going to try and make a route South towards Ushant and see how this low pressure system moves across that's moving quite fast from Spain to Southern Brittany to here and then on upwards past Newcastle.'

Roberts passed the Radio France Bouy in 5th position at 1535 local time.

Tom Dolan of Smurfit Kappa off and Racing on La Solitaire Stage 3 (from Tom Dolan Racing)

Following a general recall which really underlined how competitive and keyed up the 46 strong fleet was to get under way, the 460 miles Stage 3 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro started this afternoon from Roscoff on the famous Bay of Morlaix in the north of Brittany.

Irish solo skipper Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) is hoping the course which is much more confined will offer him the opportunity to post his best result so far of the four stage race. Stage 3, Roscoff to Roscoff, started in 12-15 knots of SW’ly wind which proved perfect for the initial 10 miles circuit on the bay. With thousands of spectators watching in one of the crucibles of French solo offshore racing, the home waters of Vendée Globe winner Armel Le Cléac’h, the first 10 mile circuit was fast and intense.

The challenging course comprises a loop across the Channel to Hands Deep mark by the Eddystone Lighthouse and down to the west of the point of Brittany before a 40 mile leg to finish back to Roscoff. A succession of tidal gates, especially at the Alderney race tomorrow, may divide the fleet. The race finishes back in Roscoff on Wednesday afternoon, perhaps evening.

Dolan said on the dock in the Blocson port before he left "It looks complicated. This is a potentially difficult stage. But the good thing is that the weather files we received this morning show some more wind than we saw yesterday. So we should be a bit quicker on this first leg across to Videocoq mark at Granville, when the tide will turn. Then we have to go play in the rocks to stay out of the tidal current. The most complicated bit will probably be the passage of the raz Blanchard (the Alderney race between the Channel island point de la Hague) where you really have to get there with the tide, otherwise we can expect huge gaps to open up.”

Having been careful to bank as much sleep as possible these last three days and night in Roscoff Dolan added, “It will be a long time before we will get the chance to sleep, really not until we are across the Channel. Until then it will be really full on and you will need to stay alert. I have been in the position on Stage 1 where I made a mistake because I was just waking up, so I need to guard against that. It is a hell of a battle this race but I can’t wait to be out there again.”

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