It is one of the European sailing season’s highest profile and most demanding events, and the Oman Sail Diam 24 team are eager for the start of the Tour de France à la Voile.
Now in its 40th year, the month long French classic starts on Friday and will take the 31 crews of the high-performance trimarans through a challenging mix of stadium and coastal racing at nine venues on the Channel, Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.
“The Tour is both a marathon and a sprint – it is a mix of both which makes it very hard to win,” says Oman Sail co-skipper Thierry Douillard. “There are the stadium races and then there are some long, long races, every two days you are doing a coastal race of anything between 20 and 60 miles.
“Then you have to pack the boat, move to the next place and rig the boat again during the night, and then you are going again in the stadium races. It is pretty intense.”
Last year the Omani team secured an impressive fifth place finish. This time around the experienced crew have their sights set on a top three podium place.
French star Douillard is reunited with former British Olympic sailor Stevie Morrison on the helm and co-skippering, and talented Omani sail trimmers Ali Al Balushi and Abdulrahman Al Mashari. Former match racing world champion Mathieu Richard has strengthened the crew as navigator and tactician.
“We don’t have a huge team, but we have a very good team,” said Douillard. “We have shore support, and there are five of us on the sailing squad. As it is such a long event we rotate, between Ali and Abdul, and between Stevie, Mat and I. So the guys not sailing on the boat are there to help out.”
The Oman Sail Diam 24 campaign got off to a flying start with victory at the inaugural event of the European season, the Grand Prix Atlantique in Pornichet, western France. Two weeks later at the Spi Ouest France regatta a series of strong performances helped Douillard and crew earn a solid fifth place. Then in April the team again demonstrated they are a force to be reckoned with a third place finish among the highly-competitive 31-strong trimaran fleet at the Grand Prix Guyader event in Douarnenez.
“Our training has gone well and we and the boat are ready,” said Al Balushi. “The team has improved since last year, it has been a real step forward. We have had some good results with two podiums and a win. When we finished fifth we knew why. Everybody is very focused and happy to be together for the coming month.”
Changes to the event’s format mean that for the stadium racing the fleet is divided into two. After four to six races the top four teams from each group go forward to a ‘super final’ – a move which adds to the pressure on crews to make the cut.
The Tour starts with the first Acts in Dunkirk, Fecamp and Jullouville, before a move west to Brittany and the venues in Arzon and Les Sables D’Olonne. Then it is a switch to the Mediterranean with the Tour visiting Roses in Spain, followed by Port Camargue, Marseille and Nice.
The Oman Sail team can expect fierce competition from several other crews, not least Fondation FDJ – Des Pieds et Des Mains, Team SFS, Beijaflore Sailing, and 2016 winners Team Lorina Limonade – Golfe Du Morbihan.
by Oman Sail