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51st La Solitaire du Figaro Stage 1 - Day 2

by La Solitaire du Figaro 31 Aug 2020 19:33 BST 31 August 2020
La Solitaire du Figaro 2020 Leg 1 © Alexis Courcoux

After the first night at sea, which proved painfully slow and frustrating at times, the leaders on the 642 nautical miles Stage 1 of La Solitaire du Figaro had got their noses into the first of a forecasted new southerly breeze and by mid-afternoon this Monday, some 27 hours after the start, the pacemakers were intermittent periods of promising speeds, back up to 7 knots.

French skipper Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) has led the 35 solo skippers since 0530hrs this morning, a middle track close to the most direct, shortest course proving most profitable. The 39- year-old from the Team Vendée Formation training group already has two overall podiums to his credit, second in 2013 and third in 2015, but in nine previous challenges has not yet won a stage.

Leading the fleet out of The Channel approaches this afternoon he had stretched from 0.3 to 0.7 nautical miles ahead of Corentin Douguet (NF Habitat) over a 90 minute period. The leaders are contemplating the passage of the Scillies this evening and tonight and choose their passage around the forbidden zones marked by the Traffic Separation Schemes there.

Into the second night the breeze is expected to build to present a rich-get-richer scenario for those in the vanguard of the fleet, gennaker reaching in 13-16kts of breeze towards the Fastnet, which is just under 200 miles from Macaire this afternoon.

Trying to work through the very calm, sticky zone of the high pressure ridge, last night definitely saw elements of bad luck come into play. Solo skippers only tens of metres from their rivals being left behind, unlucky to miss out on local zephyrs of wind, especially among those who chose the inshore option, closest to the north Brittany coast. As expected off Roscoff speeds dropped to zero for periods.

Ireland's Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) left the Baie de Saint Brieuc start line on Sunday with one avowed intention, to lay to exorcise the ghosts of the two 'disastrous' first legs which ruined both of his first two La Solitaire du Figaro.

In 2018 he was forced back to Le Havre when a spreader root failed less than one hour after the start - he did not even make it to the first buoy - while last year he was one of many who went west on the beat to Fastnet and he finished many hours after the winners.

Lying fifth the 33 year old from County Meath who has based himself in Concarneau for 11 years and has finished fourth in the MiniTransat is making a decent fist of the first part of this stage, best of the eight international, non-French sailors, just 1.2 miles behind Macaire and seemingly well established within this main peloton.

In contrast Brit Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) had a terrible first night, finding himself going backwards in the current at one point. He was down in 33rd place this afternoon with a deficit of 23 miles on the leaders.

Top British hope Sam Goodchild (Leyton) recovered well after a modest first couple of hours and lies eighth on his first La Solitaire du Figaro stage for six years.

As he did on the equivalent first leg last year, twice winner Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire) has underlined his self confidence in doing his own thing, working well to the north of the group. The sailor previously known as The Jackal for his ability to hold pace with the leaders then pounce when they made mistakes, appeared to have lost 20 miles on the leaders and was 22nd but some forecasters suggest there will be more wind pressure to the north of the rhumb line as the high pressure moves away.

But as fellow two-times overall winner Nico Lunven cautioned in his lunch time analysis written on land today, the new Beneteau Figaro 3s are lighter and faster than their predecessor Figaro 2s and under gennaker against a Code Zero or vice versa, a sustained 3 knots speed differential is not unusual.

Similarly not to be written off is the French ace Yann Eliès (Queguiner Materiaux-Leucémie Espoir) who could become the first skipper to win outright four times. Eliès was also working a very northerly routing compared with the peloton and was 23rd, the same distance behind the leader as his long time rival Le Cléach.

Before leaving his native Baie de Saint Brieuc Eliès told the local Le Telegramme in an interview:

"Maybe I'm wrong, but it is getting harder and harder. There were of course other difficulties back in the days when my father was racing. But I don't know if I will be able to enjoy myself without having that desire to win... just getting out there to sail around. In the past, there was the idea of going on a trip, sailing off to Kinsale for example. But this time, Saint-Quay, Dunkirk and Saint-Nazaire. No point in going there if you're not aiming to win... It's tough, hard work and the boat is difficult too... But that is one of the reasons why we keep coming back. People think we must be crazy, but when you get back ashore, you tell yourself, "We have done something incredible."

He adds, "It is a question of motivation, commitment and the result of being in a group... During the delivery trip, we got up to 15-20 knots under spinnaker, or maybe more. We could have taken it easy with the gennaker and stayed in our bunk. But of course we didn't. I needed one more shot to make sure I was ready. I'm still in my prime, but it doesn't feel like it did when I achieved my third win. I felt I was that bit better and that it was easy. Here, I'm simply in the group of contenders, but I'm not head and shoulders above everyone else. To get three wins, I had perfect control of the boat and it was so easy getting out in front. I felt relaxed and didn't have to suffer...

Now even to be up at the front means I have to push extremely hard. You have to give so much and I'm not sure I can do that throughout the Solitaire. I feel I am capable of getting a win in one leg, but will my body be able to cope with all that effort? I just can't recover and recuperate so easily. There is the question of preparation. I have a great partner, but when I see the lads with Macif, Bretagne CMB and how they have been hard at work since November..."

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