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52nd La Solitaire du Figaro Stage 4 Day 4: 'It ain't over 'til it's over'

by Andi Robertson 15 Sep 20:29 BST 15 September 2021

The leadership of the decisive Stage 4 of the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro was in the balance as the top group passed 82 nautical miles offshore of the NW tip of Brittany heading for the final finish line in Saint Nazaire on the Loire-Atlantic coast.

But while it has been Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019) -overall leader on the General Classification - and French former 470 Olympian Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnement-Ruban Rose) - who have been sharing the lead on what should be the penultimate day of racing, the last 24 hours into the finish line look set to encounter very light winds which could well mean the pack compresses and reshuffles.

Déjà vu?

Under very similar circumstances, a year ago almost to the day, the leading group ran out of breeze on the rhumb line, inshore of Belle Ile at 25 miles from the finish. Among them at the time was the British racer Sam Goodchild who was on course for a podium finish overall. He spent three hours stuck in the calms while Fred Duthil went outside Belle Ile and won the stage.

And so while Quiroga has been doing his best to protect against his two nearest rivals Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) and Tom Laperche (CMB Bretagne Performance) looking to conserve as much of his time cushion of 1hr 53mins he will have some tough decisions to make tomorrow in the final miles which will stand between him and overall victory. For sure many in the fleet who raced last year may have a growing sense of déjà vu but even that may be blunted by extreme tiredness and fatigue accumulated over the last four weeks of racing.

A big high pressure ridge is set to become established in the west of the Bay of Biscay but even the various weather modelling software systems cannot agree on its evolution tomorrow. The skippers' weather files they left the dock with on Sunday are now well out of date and they are entirely reliant on the very basic synopsis and forecasts relayed to them from Race Direction, their interpretation of them and what they can see happening on the water.

Quiroga has big risk to manage

Quiroga was lying third at 2.7 miles behind leader Leboucher late afternoon Wednesday but Macaire is closer to the rhumb line, to his north and east by more than 15 miles. Ireland's Tom Dolan has started to benefit again from his choice pressing Macaire and the two have been fast, along with Leboucher. Dolan on Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan is back up to fourth while Barcelona's 22 year old Pep Costa (Cybele Vacances-Team Play to B) has had a fantastic leg since rounding the Fastnet rock - staying furthest west on the descent down the Celtic Sea - and is sixth, top rookie by six miles.

The latest weather modelling has the leaders at the finish line between 2000hrs Thursday and 0200hrs Friday morning.

Quiroga might yet be closing in on overall victory but deeply fatigued he was not loving the race this morning, "I'm cold, it feels long but we're getting there! The winds could be worse... but we have a huge swell, that's more of the problem. There has always been breeze which is reassuring. I don't see Xavier (Macaire), however I found Tom (Laperche). The conditions are easier than they were forecast to be. I sleep, I sleep, and the body just doesn't recover with the sleep. I wake in a fug and work slowly through it. When I wake up, I am not operational. It's hard. The nights at sea start to be very long, they feel interminable, the sun takes a long time to rise, and that does not help the brain to wake up. I am not looking ahead to an ETA. As long as we can move forward like this towards the Iroise Sea, so much the better. But I fear the passage along the Brittany coast in the middle of the day with the thermal effects. Regarding the Brittany point, from the start, I have gone for an option quite offshore: my waypoint is 15 miles below the raz de Sein. I will also adjust it according to my two pals, it would be good if they stayed with me!"

Pep Costa (Cybele Vacances - Team Play to be), sixth this morning, "This race is intense with a lot of wind shifts. I have gone well after the Fastnet, I'm happy with my position. The boat is going fast but I have to be on deck all the time working with constant trimming and little adjustments, refining. There is a good group around me, I am very happy, I have worked well, worked hard since the start. I don't want to drop my rhythm though I'm tired. I'm not sure what to expect as we get towards the tip of Brittany. I still don't see the meteo situation very clearly, maybe there will be a northwesterly wind. I'm looking forward to the 9am weather forecast to see more clearly. "

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