Victory for Elies
Yann Elies and his Groupe Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir reached Porto, Portugal at 16:03:26 local time this afternoon to claim first place on the opening leg of La Solitaire du Figaro Eric Bompard cashmere. On this first leg across the Bay of Biscay from Bordeaux Elies took 3 days 3 hours 3 minutes and 26 seconds to cover the 536 miles leg which he managed at an average speed of 7.13 knots, despite the extreme variation in weather conditions.
For Elies, winner of La Solitaire du Figaro Eric Bompard cashmere last year, this represents his eighth leg victory. Behind him Frédéric Duthil on Sepalumic and Jean-Pierre Nicol on Bernard Controls complete the podium.
Of the 536 miles of the opening stage, more than 500 were downwind in different wind conditions - medium crossing the Bay of Biscay, followed by eight hours of strong conditions on the approach to Cape Finisterre before a final 24 hours in light winds. If ever there was a complete test of a sailor then given the variation in conditions then this would be it.
One of the highlights of leg one was the strong conditions over Monday night into Tuesday. At times the boats were surfing at speeds approaching 20 knots, causing several to broach and some to destroy their big spinnakers. This sail would then prove essential for the final light wind portion of the leg.
Having led early on in the leg, Elies played the light conditions of the final 24 hours well taking the lead last night.
Elies eighth leg win in his tenure in La Solitaire is one short of the record of nine held by three time winner of the event Jean le Cam.
On his arrival Elies commented: "It's been a long battle, as it always is. I'm happy with the final result because I've been up in front almost all the time, save at the start, but this seems to be the norm for me! I had some bad moments too. At Cape Finisterre I thought I was safe, and when the wind started to drop I said to myself 'it's okay, I have ten miles in hand, time to clear up a bit'. Then I saw three little red lights passing to leeward. I thought 'okay, let's start this over again.'
"It was tough... Finally I managed to put some time between me and the others - that is good. But this is only the first leg, it's not won yet, there is still three to go. I'm happy, but I know that I have to keep focused and modest because the reverse can always happen, especially on the second leg.
"I reckon I'm among the favourites, one needs to be self-confident and I think I'm ready to go for it. This is my 8th win, one more to my goal to equal Jean Le Cam.
"I had no computer, no navigation software and I couldn't get the position reports. But I studied the course well before the start and I knew what was needed on every part of the leg. That worked up to Cape Finisterre, I always was going to have issues there... But not having a computer may have saved me, because when you don't know where the others are, you can choose where you want to go. And this can be positive. It was kind of 'old style' sail racing... I got out paper charts, ruler and pencil...”
Frédéric Duthil added: ”It's one of those legs that are uncertain to the last night. With Yann we took the same option: I was pretty sure and at sunrise we realised we made the right choice because we had some breeze. But we didn't know where the others were because the fleet was spread out and we couldn't even get them on the AIS. This morning report reassured us... there was a sort of re-start after Finisterre, I made the right choice and that was long overdue... I'm fast downwind in fresh air but I'm slower when it's light. It's been a very demanding leg, we couldn't relax a minute and the finish never come...”
Jean-Pierre Nicol finished third on leg 1: “Looks like I come from the end of the world! I fought because I really want to do something good in this Solitaire, and especially on this first leg. Yann gave us a good bash but on the rest of the fleet it's not bad. After Cap Finisterre I stayed inshore, but I've privileged the sea breeze until I saw that the ones offshore were fast, so I turned to go and meet them on an intermediate route to have a good angle to approach the finish. Yann has a good advantage, but behind there are ten favourites, who have lost a lot. There is still a chance...”