Photo: Alexis Courcoux

Can Yann Elies hang on?

Third and final leg of La Solitaire du Figaro sets sail on Sunday

Friday July 6th 2012, Author: Helen Fretter, Location: France

As the deciding leg of La Solitaire du Figaro-Eric Bompard Cachemire looms, the 36 solo skippers have been reflecting on the race so far, their performance over the past two stages, and the rankings going into the final 480-mile stage.

Speaking in Saint Gilles Croix de Vie yesterday, overall leader Yann Eliès was understandably pleased with his performance on Groupe Queguiner- Journal des Entreprises, winning the first stage and finishing third in the second in his 13th entry in the race.

“I'm in real harmony with the boat, the elements, I'm lucky when it s needed, I make the right choices. I feel really good, I hope it will last until the end,” he said.

The 38-year-old former Vendee Globe skipper has half an hour lead on cumulative elapsed time over Morgan Lagravière, last year's top rookie. “Half an hour is good, but it is not comprehensive insurance. Thirty minutes; I'm not far from having a huge gap, but ultimately, it is not enough when looking at the important crossings in the third leg, such as the Raz de Sein or the Raz Blanchard. Mentally speaking you should never think the story is over. You should never believe that it is won on a Solitaire. Confidence, speed, serenity is more stuff that I have in me now, but with the three guys I have behind me, I necessarily feel some pressure. They also have some. The danger will come from the race. Theoretically, all sailors who are within six hours from the leader can win, but I can't see any sailors other than these three (Nicolas Lunven, Morgan Lagravière and Fabien Delahaye) winning this edition.”

Behind Eliès, just 3 minutes and 32 seconds separate Morgan Lagravière on Vendée, 2009 winner Nicolas Lunven on Generali and Skipper Macif 2012's Fabien Delahaye, who finished second last year. As fellow skipper Alexis Loison points out: “That is the time difference at a buoy.”

Lagravière said: “Looking at the results, there are still opportunities to play for. If someone had told me that before the third stage I would find myself in this position, I would have signed up right away! It's very positive. It leaves the door open for a win, most likely for a podium, but maybe off the podium as the gaps behind are so tight. Everything is possible one way or the other. Today, the only thing to do is to focus on my strengths: my boat speed, the energy I manage to have, my physical fitness, and my ability to sleep very little... I also have some weaknesses, on weather choices, things that you learn with experience. I have only one mission: to fight hard and highlight the positive points.”

Nicolas Lunven commented: “My 10 seconds of time difference with second won't change the way I sail, I hope not anyway. The last stage will be complicated with a course including numerous possible pitfalls. I looked at the forecast this morning: it won't be that easy. I am really happy to have managed to sail on two legs without taking the rankings much into considerations. So I was free to focus on my navigation. I want to do the same on the final leg. We will count the minutes and seconds after crossing the finish line in Cherbourg.”

Behind the leading trio there is another close fight between fifth placed Thierry Chabagny on Gedimat to the 12th placed boat, Damien Guillou on La Solidarité Mutualiste, all separated by just 33 minutes. “In the last stage, there will certainly be different sailing behaviour depending on the skippers' objectives. There will be some conservatives and some hotheads,” says Alexis Loison. “Myself, I'm pretty conservative.”

Others, such as the winner of leg 2, Gildas Morvan on Cercle Vert, will be giving this final stage everything they can. “I have nothing to fear,” says Morvan. “The guys who only play for the overall ranking risk losing to control others. In my case, I do not care, I must stay aggressive.”

In the rookie/bizuth division for the Solitaire first timers, former Mini sailor Thomas Normand on Financière de l'Echiquier has a lead of 29 minutes and 22 seconds over Julien Villion on Seixo Promotion. Next is Corentin Horeau on Bretagne - Crédit Mutuel Espoir. Normand said: “If I could have an hour or an hour and a half of advance, it would be good because the guys behind, Julien, Corentin and the others are more motivated than ever. Corentin has shown it on this second leg. The next stage is long and many things can happen, we must not rest on what has been done so far. After these first two legs, I really learnt humility. I just took a picture with the overall top three and I realised that it was the first time I saw them. Even if I'm the first of the rookies, I still have loads to learn to hope to compete with the best. They give us a great lesson of sailing and that's good for us young people.”

Nigel King, who competed in La Solitaire du Figaro last year shared his insight on what the crew are going through leading up to the start of this year's third and final leg: “With Leg 3 fast approaching all the skippers will have so much to think about in these final few hours, as you try to get your preparation spot-on for the one thing that's consumed your whole year. Whether you are performing above or below your expectations there is the same amount of work required and by this point of the race your brain is working overtime trying to figure out what will make the difference, and all of this thinking is happening in a very sleep-deprived mind !

“Since finishing Stage 2 the skippers will have tried hard to catch up on sleep and relax, but they will also have been studying the course and the weather several times a day as well as spending time at the boat to make sure the preparatory (shore crew) know what the problems are and how best to fix them. It's a really hard balance to strike: sleep too much and you feel like you are not preparing yourself for the leg ahead, don't sleep enough and you will start tired. Also there are the mind games of walking the dock: if you are working and other skippers are relaxing with a beer, you start to ask yourself, ‘How can they have time to do this? Are they beating me?' Or if you are relaxing and they are working you start to think you are missing something. The bottom line is that you need to have confidence in your approach, which is not easy when you are 20th or 30th overall.

“So, what is left to play for if you are in the bottom half of the fleet? First and foremost you will have people in front of you that you will not want to be beaten by. Obviously you don't want anyone beating you if possible, but in the events prior to La Solitaire you will have raced against most of the skippers and during that time you will have picked out which boats you believe you should finish ahead of. If you are not in with a shout of getting the result you wanted you will look at the final leg to show that you are capable of being competitive and will want to finish on a high.

“But no matter what result you get, just to finish a Figaro – particularly in your first attempt – is seen by the French as a huge achievement. In the end, there is no doubt in my mind that the beer at the end of a Solitaire du Figaro is one of the hardest beers you will ever earn, no matter what your result.”

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