Sam lines up for the Figaro

The countdown is on for the singlehanded one design class' top event of the season at the end of this month

Thursday July 10th 2003, Author: Offshore Challenges, Location: France
Sam Davies returned to the UK after her first solo regatta La Generali Méditerranée finished at the end of June. Now she is back in La Rochelle to start her training programme in the build up to the main event of the season - the Solitaire du Figaro: "I have a lot I want to achieve in the next three weeks and every minute I can spend on the water the better. I learnt a lot during the Generali about boat set up and I just want to put that into practice, record all the various settings and just concentrate on pure boat speed."

The Solitaire du Figaro starts on 30 July with a prologue before the Figaro fleet departs Les Sables d'Olonne on 31 July on Leg 1 to Bilbao-Getxo (Spain) 449 miles away. Sam is the first British female to compete in the event for 25 years since sailor turned author, Clare Francis, competed in 1975 and 1976 - even winning one of the legs. She is the only British entry and one of two women competing - the other being her good friend and another former-Mini Transat competitor Jeanne Grégoire.

There are 44 competitors - 39 from France the remainder representing Britain, Spain, Italy and Holland. The entry list is a Who's Who of French sailing - Michel Desjoyeaux (2001 Vendée Globe winner and two times Figaro winner), Loick Peyron (ORMA Multihull Champion), Alain Gautier (1992 Vendée Globe winner and Ellen MacArthur co-skipper in Transat Jacques Vabre)...

Alongside these greats of ocean racing are the 'Rookies' (Bizuths in French) or to put it another way "the first-timers" including Davies. The Rookies may have raced in other Figaro events but have never competed in the infamous Solitaire du Figaro. The ten Rookies compete against the others for an overall position but also form their own class fighting for the title of 'Top Rookie'. Davies will be fight to seize the Rookie crown in what is her first season of Figaro racing.

The Rookie competition is impressive and the greatest rivals for Davies will be Frenchmen Marc Emig and Yves Le Blevec. Emig has raced keelboats and multihulls, has raced round the cans, offshore and match raced. He has raced the Tour de France an incredible 10 times winning it in 1994 - so he is a strong all-round competitor. Le Blevec raced in the 2001 Mini Transat finishing 5th overall and won that class' TransGascogne event. He has been performing well this season and and has the momentum to take him places in this event. "The Rookies in the Solitaire are good and some like Emig and Le Blevec proved their strength at the Generali," says Sam. "But I have beaten Yves Le Blevec in some races and I was close to Marc Emig in most of the races last month. The Solitaire is a diverse and long race and with the solo offshore racing I have done to date and the training I am putting in right up until the start, gives me the confidence I need to do well."

In contrast to the 'first-timers' the remainder of the skippers have competed between two to eight times with a few exceptions who have over 10 Solitaire races under their belt. Alain Gautier for example has competed 15 times including an overall win in 1989, second in 1988, fourth in 1997 and two abandonments in 1984 and 1996 (during the 1996 race he fell overboard and was lucky to be rescued up by a co-competitor).

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