New Banque Populaire IMOCA 60 skipper confirmed
While there have been rumours dating back for several months about the sale of Michel Desjoyeaux's radical new Foncia IMOCA 60 - the boat which he raced in last autumn's Route du Rhum and subsequently in the Barcelona World Race up until she lost the top of her rig in the Southern Ocean - being sold to Banque Populaire, the team has only just confirmed that her skipper is not to be their maxi-trimaran skipper Pascal Bidegorry (recently departed from the team in any case), nor Jeanne Gregoire who competes under the bank's colours on the Figaro circuit, but double Solitaire du Figaro winner Armel le Cleac'h.
Le Cleac'h won the Solitaire for the first time in 2003 when his cumulated time calculated out to being just 13 seconds faster than Alain Gautier. In 2006 he persuaded his then sponsor, the airline BritAir to step up to an IMOCA 60 campaign with a Groupe Finot-designed sistership to Alex Thomson's Hugo Boss, Yann Elies' Generali and Marc Thiercelin's DCNS. Over the years Le Cleac'h and his BritAir IMOCA 60 have developed a reputation for being forever the bridesmaid and never the bride, always in the hunted and performing when it mattered - in the 2008-9 Vendee Globe, they finished second behind Michel Desjoyeaux, and before this were second in the Artemis Transat, while last year once again BritAir finished second in the Route du Rhum behind Roland Jourdain and Veolia Environnement. This came after a phenomenal performance in the Figaro class last year, perhaps through frustration, when le Cleac'h scored 'the double', winning first the Transat AG2R and then Solitaire du Figaro when he won three out of four of the legs to claim his second win in this race.
Le Cleac'h, probably the most talented shorthanded sailor of his generation, aboard Desjoyeaux's latest VPLP-Verdier-Mer Agitee-designed former Foncia looks set to be a very potent combination in what is lining up to be the most competitive Vendee Globe ever.
At present the new Banque Populaire IMOCA 60 is awaiting a new mast, due to be delivered at the end of June. She is due to compete in the Artemis Challenge before taking part in the Rolex Fastnet Race in August, the year culminating in the Transat Jacques Vabre starting on 30 October.
Read all about this very cool boat here.