Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Solitaire du Figaro form guide

Which of the 37 will win this year's effective World Championship of singlehanded offshore racing?

Saturday June 23rd 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Over its 42 year history, La Solitaire du Figaro has again and again demonstrated itself to be the proving ground for France’s top sailing stars of the future. Winning the unofficial world championship of singlehanded offshore racing, is a catalyst that launches its top competitors on towards larger and greater projects.

Among the legends this prestigious event has helped create include double Vendee Globe victor Michel Desjoyeaux (winner in 2007, 1998, 1992), and the only two other triple winners - Philippe Poupon (1982, 1985, 1995) and Jean le Cam (1994, 1996, 1999). Other Vendee Globe winners have also first cut their teeth in La Solitaire, including 1992 solo round the world race winner Alain Gautier, first in La Solitaire in 1989, and Christophe Auguin who won the 1996 Vendee (as well the BOC Challenge and Around Alone singlehanded round the world races) a decade after achieving Solitaire success. Among those competing in this autumn’s Vendee Globe, Groupe Bel skipper Kito de Pavant won La Solitaire in 2002, Banque Populaire’s Armel le Cleac’h won in 2003 and again in 2010, while Maître Coq’s Jeremie Beyou won in 2005 and 2011.

Two years after winning la Solitaire in 1983 Lionel Pean skippered his boat to victory in the Whitbread Round the World Race. Similarly Franck Cammas, winner of La Solitaire du Figaro in 1997 is now close to doing the same in the Whitbread’s successor, the Volvo Ocean Race with Groupama.

So who will prove to be this year’s victor of La Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard Cachemire? It is felt around 10 of this year’s 37 skippers are capable of winning. Only one, Generali skipper Nicolas Lunven, has received this accolade before when he picked up the trophy in 2009, although five of the favourites have come home second previously – Thierry Chabagny (2006), Fred Duthil (2007), Gildas Morvan (2008), Yann Eliès (2009) and Fabien Delahaye (2011).

One theory is that those skippers who this season chose to focus on their Solitaire training, instead of competing in the doublehanded Transat AG2R, may be favourites. This would include Lunven, Eliès and the top rookie from 2011, Morgan Lagravière.

Skipper Age Boat Past Best  Transat  Notes
      Solitaires results AG2R  
Thierry Chabagny 40 Gedimat 10 2nd 2006, 4th 2009 6th Banque Populaire crewman
Fabienne Delahaye 27 Skipper MACIF 2012 3 2nd 2011, 10th 2010 4th Champion de France de Course au Large en Solitaire in 2011
Fred Duthil 38 Sepalumic 7 2nd 2007, 3rd 2008 and 2009 7th  
Yann Elies 38 Groupe Queguiner/Joural des entreprises 12 2nd in 2009 and 2004    First Figaro in 1997, ex Orange 2, Generali IMOCA 60
Morgan Lagraviere 25 Vendee 1 7th and 1st bizuth in 2011   ex-Junior 420 World Champ and leading 49er sailor
Nicolas Lunven 29 Generali 5 1st in 2009, 4th 2010    
Anthony Marchand 27 Bretagne Credit Mutuel Performance 2 9th in 2011 5th  
Paul Meilhat 30 Skipper MACIF 2011 2 6th in 2011 4th ex 49er Olympic squad
Gildas Morvan 43  Cercle Verte 16 2nd in 2008, 3rd 1999-2001 1st Won the Transat AG2R
Erwan Tabarly 38 Nacarat 11 3rd 2011, 4th 2008 2nd  

Beyond this the top ten can be divided into two groups - the old timers and youngsters. As one of the former, Yann Eliès, puts it: “Erwan Tabarly, Fred Duthil, Gildas Morvan and I represent the old guard - even though I'm only 38 years - but within the new guard of Fabien Delahaye, Paul Meilhat, Morgan Lagravière and Nicolas Lunven, the level is very high. Erwan Tabarly and Fabien Delahaye for me are the most dangerous.”

Skipper of Groupe Queguiner/Journal des Enterprises, Eliès is himself decidedly one of the favourites. In the last two years former IMOCA 60 skippers Armel le Cléac’h and Jérémie Beyou have won La Solitaire before stepping back into new 60ft campaigns for the Vendee Globe. Maybe Eliès (who’s father Patrick won La Solitaire, then known as the Course de l’Aurore, in 1979) will do the same?

“To win the Solitaire must in my opinion 80% work, 20% experience and a pinch of success,” says Eliès, who adds of the change from four legs to three slightly longer ones this year: “Having three stages does not change much in the end, but maybe we will have to resist sleep a little more.”

Cercle Verte skipper Gildas Morvan, setting out on his 17th La Solitaire du Figaro this year, believes 2012 could be the year of the youngsters. But the Solitaire veteran wonders if Skipper MACIF 2012’s Fabien Delahaye, runner up in 2011 and Morgan Lagravière, who finished 7th and was top rookie last year, might be feeling too much pressure this year, leaving the field open for the likes of Keopsys’ Charlie Dalin (who raced with Morvan to victory in this spring’s Transat AG2R) or Yoann Richomme, skipper of DLBC. Otherwise Morvan has his fingers crossed it is the “year of green” with the green-hulled Groupama on track to win the Volvo Ocean Race and possibly his own Cercle Verte, achieving the same success in La Solitaire.

And what of the only man in the fleet to have tasted La Solitaire victory beforehand? "Like every year, the level in La Solitaire is very high,” says Generali skipper Nicolas Lunven. “A generation ago it was Erwan Tabarly, Gildas Morvan, Yann Eliès, Jeanne Gregoire, Thierry Chabagny and Frédéric Duthil and now there are more young people like Morgan Lagravière, Fabien Delahaye, but also good rookies like Julien Villion and Corentin Horeau.”

Lunven says he is also impressed by Bernard Controls skipper Jean-Pierre Nicol. “In 2011, he was aggressive in how he sailed and the options he took. His high rate of success meant that it was not coincidence or luck. To win we must make choices. La Solitaire is like the stock market, one must take risks to win.”

Leg 1 of Solitaire du Figaro – Eric Bompard Cachemire sets sail at 1100 UTC on Sunday 24th June. The start will be streamed live on to the website

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