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A decisive third stage to La Solitaire du Figaro is set but third placed Goodchild is staying cool

by La Solitaire du Figaro 11 Sep 20:20 BST
Village La Solitaire du Figaro Dunkirk © Alexis Courcoux

The third stage of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro which starts from Dunkirk on Saturday afternoon at 1600hrs local time is a 492 nautical miles stage to Saint Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire Estuary.

With three weather transitions on the forecasts and at least the same number of potential tidal traps lying in wait, including passages through both of the most notorious tidal races, first the Raz Blanchard - the Alderney Race - and then the Raz de Sein - between the Isle de Sein and the tip of Brittany - all compounded by an expected wind shutdown at the finish, this will very likely be the stage which proves conclusive, shaking up a very tight leaderboard.

Race leader Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire), the two times La Solitaire champion is the only skipper in the fleet with breathing space, having built himself a 37 minutes and 30 seconds margin over the first two legs, most of that from winning the stage into Dunkirk. But between second placed Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) and Fabien Delahaye (Laboratoires Gilbert) there are only 26 minutes.

Britain's Sam Goodchild (Leyton) lies third, the highest ever overall position of British skipper at an intermediate stop on the annual French multi-stage race. In spite of being faced with such a complex, challenging stage, the 30 year old British soloist, remains resolute in his assertions that he feels no additional pressure and he will just take the same methodical approach, to sail his best leg and see how the numbers add up in Saint Nazaire.

Looking relaxed on the race dock in front of Dunkirk's impressive city hall, Goodchild said, "I am trying to not let the pressure of being a good position get to me and really it is working. Even when it has been going well and or even badly, sometimes, I have been really enjoying it. I wanted to come here and show that I have improved as a sailor and that I can sail better, and I think I have done that already. That has gone very much to plan, and now in essence I will just carry on with what I have been doing and the way I have been doing it."

On both stages so far Goodchild has climbed steadily up the fleet, most notably passing the three times La Solitaire winner Yann Eliès in the final three miles to the finish gun on Tuesday afternoon. He clearly has speed and is sailing to his game plan, he adds, "The two legs I have had so far I have not found myself being overtaken, I have not found myself in a situation going backwards and thinking 'I don't know what to do here.' Tactically I have made some good calls..... and some bad calls, but everyone has, Armel included. You have to put the whole package together and there is no point at all in worrying about that now. I am confident in the boatspeed I have, in the two legs I have sailed and the way I have been sailing."

Most of the skippers will contend there is no such thing as a typical La Solitaire. But, like last year, there are some very good La Solitaire sailors deep in the field, having made no glaring errors but finished right down the finishing order on one or other of the legs. Goodchild reflects: "It is quite revealing to me when I read interviews with other skippers who have won legs before or won the event before and they are a long way down the standings and they are saying they are not upset or anything, they are happy with the way they are sailing. It shows how level the playing field is on this race."

He is quite content with his situation in the fleet, considering to himself that there is less pressure on him going into this stage, "To myself and my peers here I have shown I can do good results and I can win. Now I just need to go and do it again. When I was in the Figaro before when I was 20 or 21 there was the pressure, you were thinking 'right, I need to make a result now because it will make your career.' I have eliminated that out of my mind now."

From Saturday's start gun there is no let up for the 34 strong fleet. They have to tack upwind, against the tidal current in a narrow corridor bound by the shipping lane to their north.

The tide turns against the fleet at half an hour after the start and from there it is upwind, uptide for the next six hours until 0030hrs, certainly to the corner at Cap Gris Nez. A transition through a high pressure ridge means light winds at the end of the first night. During the early morning the wind goes from SW'ly through 180 degrees, into the east, but the transition will not be simple and will surely reshuffle the pack.

Then it is light downwind sailing in 10 knots or less down to the Raz Blanchard where they should reach early Monday morning. But the race could well be decided off the Raz de Sein off Ushant where the wind is due to switch again to the south and remain very light.

Overall standings here

Update from Tom Dolan Racing

Tom Dolan is hoping the same measured, steady approach that has served him well on the first two stages of La Solitaire du Figaro will work just as well on Stage 3, a challenging 504 miles leg from Dunkirk in the very north east of France, round the Brittany peninsula to Saint Nazaire at the entrance to the Loire estuary.

The 33 year old Irish skipper of Smurfit Kappa has logged a tenth and an 11th and lies 11th overall, one hour and 11 minutes behind leader Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire). On a very tightly packed leaderboard he is just 33 minutes off second place after an aggregate of six days of racing, and a few seconds away from the top ten.

In Dunkirk today in the pleasant September sunshine Dolan was not letting the prospect of a very challenging third leg upset his mindset. The stage will include two of the most famous, rocky, tidal races in France, the Raz Blanchard at Alderney and the Raz de Sein off the tip of Brittany. Winds are once again expected to be light to moderate for the duration of the four day stage which starts at 1600hrs local time. This race is immediately followed by Stage 4, a 24 hours 180 miles final sprint.

"I am thinking like most people that this third stage will be crucial in terms of the final classification of the race. Even if I have done well enough these first two legs I go into this one just looking to try and do the same again, I stay focused, humble and not let things run away with me." He said, "This is not an easy leg, we are in anticyclonic weather system with the ridge of high pressure to go through with light winds, again, then downwind in the light, then the tidal gates. I think people will get away the gaps will open and close like elastic. I just want to stick with my plan and keep pace with the fleet."

Winds are set to be light on Sunday and timings on the headlands on a classic race down the Channel can be key, as will be making a good start off the line Saturday afternoon.

"We will be racing against the current, short tacking to start with and it will always be good to be in the top group. But I don't really want to think too much about the result or what might be, I'll try to do my own race without looking too much at others at the AIS (radar). We'll see when we get there".

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