Tour Voile kicks off
Racing proper will kick off on 28 June with two days of inshore racing before the fleet leaves Dunkerque and heads towards Dieppe on the first offshore race.
The Tour Voile this year includes ten offshore races and 26 inshore races in total a 1050 mile course with 12 stopovers. The end will be in Nice on 29 July.
An incredible 41 Mumm 30s are taking part - equallying the record number of entries ever entered in this event. This also means fierce and intensive racing, as the level of competition will again be extremely high. 14 teams are competing in the professional division, 13 in the amateur division and 14 in the student division.
There are several teams to watch in the professional division. These include: Cassis Mauguio Carnon with Frenchmen Vincent Portugal and Bernard Mallaret, Aussie Nick Moloney and Italian Vasco Vascotto, Mumm 30 world champion. ormer Vendée Globe sailor, Marc Thiercelin will be back onboard Kenzo with Eric Drouglazet, winner of the Solitaire du Figaro 2001.
Former 49er contender Dimitri Deruelle will helm Alain Fédensieu's boat Marseille. Nantes-St-Nazaire of Pierre-Loïc Berthet and Marc Guessard will be a serious contender as will be Jimmy Pahun's regular entry Région Ile de France with Vendee Globe sailor Isabelle Autissier on board and Figaro winner Pascal Bidégorry and the Swiss boat Ville de Genève Carrefoursailed by Etienne David and Jean-Marc Monnard who did well last year. Prévention are always pretty consistent and keep improving. Steve Ravussin, winner of the last double-handed Transat Jacques Vabre with Franck Cammas, will come and sail with them for a few legs.
Britain is this year represented by three teams - one in each division. The most serious contender is Rob Greenhalgh's British entry Panther Team GBR with madforsailing correspondent Mike Broughton navigating. In the amateur division is Owen Modral's Royal Thames entry while in the student class - with former Team Adventure navigator Larry Rosenfield navigator on board - there is Simon Sutherland's Force EDC.
There will also be several potential winners the amateur class. This includes Accenture Tibco Software skippered by double Tour de France à la Voile winner Pierre-Yves Lambert; Swiss boat Bienne Voile skippered by Lorenz Müller and Hervé Gautier's CSC-Essec.
The battle will also be fierce among the student¹s boats. Marc Emig's Arts et Métiers HEC will be a team to watch along with Cap Université St-Quentin en Yvelines of Olivier Hontanx and Hervé Leduc. Yannick Bestaven, winner of last year's Mini Transat will be on board ENTPE-Sécurité Routière and some former Transat Jacques Vabre skippers will also sail on board Jacques Vabre ESC Le Havre skippered by Guillaume Got.
The race itself has evolved over recent years to become a unique one-design race. Each year, new sailors have come to compete. All together thousands of sailors have participated in this event. Many professionals have come to race against amateurs and students eager to fight and do well. Winning the Tour de France à la Voile remains a difficult task. Some of the Volvo Ocean Race crews think the two events are similar in a way as they are both very demanding
physically and technically both requires consistency, as there are long races.
The America¹s Cup holders, Team New Zealand, have participated three times in the Tour de France à la Voile but have not won it yet. For a long time, the Tour de France à la Voile was only a game for offshore sailors and a few guest stars. But over the last three years, Olympic sailors and Figaro sailors have joined the game, increasing the level of competition. The ones, like Marc Emig, Jimmy Pahun, Alain Fédensieu or Vincent Portugal, who have been participating in this event for years saw the arrival of a new generation of sailors eager to do well.
Who are these new contenders? They are Figaro sailors like Eric Drouglazet, Pascal Bidégorry, Sébastien Josse and Marc Guessard or Olympic sailors like Marc Bouvet, Yann Guichard, Dimitri Deruelle, Gildas Philippe, Pierre Pennec, Marc Audineau, Julien Farnarier and Ian Barker. We also have a few famous
offshore sailors such as Isabelle Autissier, Yves Parlier, Steve Ravussin and Catherine Chabaud who come to share their experience with a team. Marc
Thiercelin will be skippering a boat again. Even Mini-Transat sailors are to be found such as 2001 winner Yannick Bestaven will have a go. And French maritime writer Erik Orsenna will participate in a few legs on board Jimmy Pahun's boat.
In recent years there has been an increased amount of foreign competition. The French had to wake up when the event was won twice in a row by a foreign
boats - Belgian Luc Dewulfs' Kateie in 1999 and Adrian Stead's Barlo Plastics in 2000. The America¹s Cup holders, Team New Zealand, came three times to try and win this event. Once again this year, there are a few foreign teams who have the potential to snatch victory: the Swiss Etienne David and Jean-Marc Monnard onboard Ville de Genève, British Rob Greenhalgh onboard Panther: Team GBR or Vincent Portugal's international crew with Vasco Vascotto and Nick Moloney.