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Sebastien Simon wins Stage 4 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro and overall © Alexis Courcoux
Sebastien Simon wins Stage 4 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro and overall © Alexis Courcoux

La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro

Through the intense final 165 nautical miles 24 hour stage Sébastien Simon, sailing Bretagne CMB Performance, stayed typically cool and focused after a start line collision seemed to jeopardise his overall title hopes.

Although he lost 19 minutes and 37 seconds of the 35 minutes and 46 seconds lead and crossed the finish line of the final leg in 13th place, the 28-year-old solo skipper from Les Sables d’Olonne wins the 49th edition of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro by a relatively comfortable 16 minutes and nine seconds from Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire).

At each mark of the showdown circuit, raced off his native Vendée coast between the Ile de Ré at La Rochelle and the Ile de Yeu, northeast of the start and finish port of Saint Gilles Croie de Vie, Simon took his rivals times and made sure that he still held enough margin to secure his first ever La Solitaire overall win on his fifth attempt at the famous French multi stage solo offshore race.

Told at the winners’ dock that his final margin was 16 minutes and not the 20 minutes he had estimated on the finish line, he laughed. “I had nothing to lose and said now was the time to give it my all and if I lost, it didn’t matter, as I am moving onto a new chapter. Another dream. Taking part in the Vendée Globe. I won by sixteen minutes? But one second is enough.”

Simon laid the foundations of his overall triumph with back-to-back stage wins across the Bay of Biscay employing precise, patient strategic calls aligned to superior raw speed. He won into Galicia’s Ria Muros-Noia on a predominantly fast downwind sprint across the Bay of Biscay. He then prevailed again on Biscay but in light, tricky airs which continued throughout an unusually long four nights at sea marathon back to Saint-Gilles-Croie-de-Vie.

Frustrated at his fourth place in the 36-strong fleet on the opening stage Saint Brieuc from Le Havre, losing Simon upped his game and today reaped the rewards. Just as he kept focus when he dropped his spinnaker in the water after the start three weeks ago and had to go back to for it just after the start, so he did not unravel when he was hit on the start line yesterday.

Simon said “There was a collision at the beginning, so I messed up the start. That’s when it all happened. Those in front got away faster. I tried to stay calm and keep a cool head. But at one point I told myself it was impossible. The worst scenario. In the end under spinnaker I was a bit lucky. I’m so happy to win this event. I wasn’t expecting that. I’m so pleased to have spent five years racing against such tough competition. They deserve the win as much as I do. It’s a dream I didn’t think I would ever see come true.”

At the start in Le Havre on Sunday 26th August it was the first time in the race history that there was no past La Solitaire winner on the start line. Having won both the first and the last pre-Solitaire races, March’s Solo Maitre Coq and June’s AllMer Cup, Simon started the 1650 nautical miles four stage as one of the two favourites.

Simon grew up in Les Sables d’Olonne and, not surprisingly, from a young age harboured dreams of racing the famous solo non stop race around the world which starts and finishes from his home town. His potent combination of obvious talent, work ethic, good looks and qualifications in engineering ensure he has a 2020 Vendée Globe IMOCA 60, designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian and project managed by 2004-5 Vendée winner Vincent Riou, due for a spring launch.

“This is the best way for me and my partners to move onto another project.” Simon grinned, ” At the end I was worried. Everyone has a similarly high level. It’s often small differences that make all the difference. It’s not an exact science. It’s a mechanical sport. Anthony wasn’t far from winning La Solitaire either. He deserved it as much as I. I’ll go and congratulate him. So it’s two all between us. So this Solitaire was ours to share. But I won’t be doing a deciding match. I’m off on holiday now.”

His showed early talent as a helm in the 420 class where he took third in the world championships in Travemünde Germany in 2014. Only the following winter he was the sailor selected to the prestigious Bretagne Credit Mutuel Challenge Espoir offshore training programme, following in the successful wake of Volvo Ocean Race winner Franck Cammas (1994) and Vendée Globe winners Armel Le Cléac’h (2000) and François Gabart (2008).

Stage 4 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro © Alexis Courcoux

Stage 4 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro © Alexis Courcoux

The youngest victor of La Solitaire since Cammas’ triumph in 1995 at the age of 25 Simon has the credentials and drive to emulate some of the successes of Gabart and Le Cléac’h. His boy-band looks are matched to a smart, numerate intellect coupled to the same appetite to learn and improve that mark Michel Desjoyeaux and Gabart. By the end of January this past winter he had already racked up 23 training days on the chilly waters off Port La Fôret where he sails with the Pole Finistere group which has produced all of the last La Solitaire and Vendée Globe winners.

“He is very methodical and thoughtful. He is always working and calculating the best angles and speeds to make the best course. And he works hard all the time knowing his weak points and how to improve them.” Confirms Xavier Macaire who sailed with the young Simon on the AG2R Transatlantic race in 2016 and who dropped from second to ninth as a result of a bad final leg.

Vendée Globe winner Riou describes Simon as “…an excellent sailor. Winning two stages and overall is fabulous for him. He is very organised, very focused and has loads of passion. And he is a grafter. In short he has it all. After five editions of La Solitaire he is up there above the best. And he is a charming lad. I look forwards to seeing him every day and have fun working with him. We share our common passion. I am so happy for him.”

British Disappointment ?While Simon celebrated, there was disappointment for top British solo racer Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) who compounded a tactical error on Stage 3 with another costly wrong decision very early in the final 24 hour sprint circuit. Both he and Hugh Brayshaw gybed offshore at the start of the first long downwind to Ile de Ré last night and paid a heavy penalty on a tight four sided circuit on which there proved to be no passing opportunities. Fifth on the first leg and seventh on the second, going into Stage 4 last night Roberts was 13th but – on such a course – needed to gamble to make any serious progress up the leaderboard. His choice, mirrored by Macaire and Eric Peron among others was on the strength of their forecast the breeze would be stronger offshore and a shift to a more favourable NW direction would come to them first.

The breeze stayed resolutely in the NE and their race was largely over. Roberts drops to 18th at 2hrs and 26mins behind the winner after 10 days 16 hours and 39 minutes of racing.

Roberts recalled, ?”It was one wrong choice. I made the decision that I would roll the dice a bit more after the last leg and I did something which was wrong. In hindsight I should have stuck with the fleet and let the others drop off. Three of the top ten sailors went offshore with us and if I had stuck with the fleet I would definitely have been in the top ten. I can sail fast enough. I feel it was a bad decision. The forecast said more breeze offshore and drastically less inshore.” ??He adds, ?”But the preparations for next year start here. The Figaro 3 is a blank sheet of paper, faster and better than. With change comes opportunity. There will be some fantastic names coming in but that will be fantastic to race against them.”

Next year’s 50th edition will be raced in the new Figaro 3 and is expected to see Michel Desjoyeaux, Lick Peyron and Franck Cammas in the fleet.

Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015), who like Simon has a new IMOCA 60 in build, took third place behind Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire) who won into his native Saint Brieuc and today won the 24 Hours Massif Marine final stage. Dalin now has five consecutive podium finishes, third in 2014, second in 2015 and 2016 but the overall win has eluded the Southampton trained naval architect who also moves on from La Solitaire.

Britain’s Nick Cherry (Redshift) bows out of the Figaro Beneteau class after six years with an excellent 13th on the final leg. Hugh Brayshaw (KAMAT) made the same error as Roberts and finishes 24th overall 4 hours and 35 minutes behind the winner. Ireland’s rookies Joan Mulloy (A Taste of Ireland-A Seafood Journey) and Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) finished 28th and 31st respectively, Dolan – like Cherry forced out of Stage 1 with damage.

Top 10 overall:

1) Sébastien Simon – Bretagne CMB Performance winner in 10j14h12’14”
2) Anthony Marchand – Groupe Royer – Secours Populaire finished at 16’09” after winner
3) Charlie Dalin – Skipper MACIF 2015 à 26’30” after winner
4) Thierry Chabagny – Gédimat à 35’37” after winner
5) Benjamin Dutreux – Sateco – Team Vendée Formation à 58’52” after winner
6) Pierre Quiroga – Skipper Espoir CEM CS à 1h11’17” after winner
7) Martin Le Pape – Skipper MACIF 2017 à 1h14’41” after winner
8) Corentin Douguet – NF habitat à 1h21’51” after winner
9) Xavier Macaire – Groupe SNEF à 1h22’15” after winner
10) Thomas Cardrin Team Vendée Formation à 1h39’52” after winner – Top rookie?

See the full rankings here: www.lasolitaire-urgo.com/rankings

They said… ?

Hugh Brayshaw (KAMAT): “I made the wrong choice, I kind of got caught up in the inshore race and was too blinkered in my thinking. I should have known the majority of the fleet were inshore and should have stuck. This event has seen a huge difference in my sailing, the results may not show it at the end, but I want to go onwards and upwards from here.” ??Joan Mulloy (Taste the Atlantic-A Seafood Journey) “I went out offshore with a good group, we gybed back and we were seven miles behind. But it is done. I am really happy with the way I did manage myself and keep pushing.” ??

Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa): “It was all in the start and I was not good. Overall I loved the race but the starts are where I need to improve. I was happy enough with the way I sailed except for having to abandon the first leg and that decision on the second leg. But I am absolutely goosed.”

??Nick Cherry (Redshift): “I executed a decent start and got the first shift and was up with the top group, even leading into the first gybe but Charlie rolled me and then for the next three hours people rolled me. My kite was quite unstable. But it is a good way to finish off, it was interesting and a lot of fun. And it was quite nice to get across the finish line ahead of Seb who won overall. The racing is so close and enjoyable. But it is perfect time to finish, spinnaker and 20kts through the line, Now it is Friday drinks time.”

by François Quiviger

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