Banque Populaire refocusses on its IMOCA 60
Following the success of Banque Populaire in the Jules Verne Trophy, so the sailing team are now turning their focus towards their IMOCA 60 and skipper Armel Le Cléac'h.
It was almost a year ago now that Le Cléac'h, a former Solitaire du Figaro winner, who finished the 2008 Vendee Globe second aboard BritAir, joined the team to skipper their new IMOCA 60, Michel Desjoyeaux's former Foncia. Since then he has already made his mark in his new boat finishing third in the Transat Jacques Vabre and second in the solo return race, the Transat BtoB last autumn. But now Le Cléac'h and the Banque Populaire team in Lorient are focussing on the IMOCA class' main event - the Vendee Globe, starting from Les Sables d'Olonne on 10 November.
As the Banque Populaire carry out refit work on their VPLP-Verdier designed IMOCA 60, so Le Cléac'h is training at the Finistère Course au Large in Port la Foret on board the team's Figaro Beneteau 2 with their skipper Jeanne Gregoire, who is due to set off on the Figaro's Transat AG2R on 21 April. For the two sailors, this is an opportunity to learn from the experience of the other. "It's been a while since I have sailed a Figaro and it's always a pleasure for me," commented Le Cléac'h, who has also twice won the Transat AG2R. "I've never had the opportunity to sail with Jeanne before. So of course this is a good time ".
Tour of Europe
Le Cléac'h will return to the Banque Populaire IMOCA 60 when she is relaunched in mid-March. Then the sailing will resume prior to taking on the first competition of the season, the Europa Race, a tour of Europe starting in Istanbul on 5 May, a race mixing fully crewed and singlehanded legs to Barcelona, Gosport (where the boats will be over 29 May until 3 June) before heading for the finish in La Rochelle.
The delivery to Istanbul will be used for training, explains Le Cléac'h: "The Europa Race will begin with a three week long delivery to Turkey, which I will do singlehanded to Gibraltar to test everything that was done over te winter. Then, the technical team will take over. During the event, we will sail with 80% of Team Banque Populaire and I will be joined by Ronan Lucas, the manager of this great team, Pierre-Emmanuel Hérissé, Technical Director and Kevin Escoffier, who runs the design office. Greg Evrard, from North Sails will be on board for the first stage and Christopher Pratt [who sailed on board in the TJV last year] will also come on board. The last leg of the race will be singlehanded, which will be perfect and constructive as I can implement everything that the experiences of sailing with the full crew have brought me. Its going be a busy month..."
Meanwhile Banque Populaire is already entered and qualified for the Vendée Globe, "All the formalities are complete, allowing us to focus on the preparation for the November deadline," continues Le Cléac'h. "For me, the experience is there and there is less fear than I felt four years ago. I know where to go, even though my athletic goals are obviously different. Having completed two races in 2011 was very important point because we saw lots of things. Now, we must sail, there is no secret."
Thierry Bouvard, Banque Populaire's sponsorship manager added: "For Banque Populaire, 2012 is very emotional because it is one of two world tours, executed in boats of different sizes but on the same course. Thus, after breking Jules Verne Trophy record fully-crewed, we are about to experience a new challenge alone with Armel Le Cléac'h in the Vendee Globe. We hope to live and share this adventure in the same way as we did with Loïck Peyron and the crew of the Maxi Banque Populaire V. The stories will be different, but our commitment and passion remain the same."