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Two great sailors battle for qualification in the Vendée Globe
IMOCA 60' PRB - Skipper Vincent RIOU - Vendée Globe 2016-17 © Benoît Stichelbaut / PRB

Two sailors qualification the Vendée Globe

Armel Le Cléac’h is holding the inside track as he closes on New York. In exhausting conditions, he’s managing to stave off Vincent Riou’s attack.

This Friday morning, Armel boasted a relatively comfortable lead (69 miles at the 07:00 GMT position report).
However the duel plays out, the battle between these two great sailors, aboard IMOCA 60s featuring differing architectural concepts, has made for thrilling watching. The winner is due to finish tonight. Jean-Pierre Dick, who’s managed to keep pace very well, should complete the podium. As for Paul Meilhat and Richard Tolkien, every mile covered takes them another step closer to their objective: qualification in the Vendée Globe.

“There has been little respite in this race, no time for a series of long tacks. The transitions and sail changes use up a lot of energy and it’s more physical than I’d imagined before I set sail.” Armel Le Cléac’h is giving it everything he’s got to maintain his lead over Vincent Riou, which he’s been hanging onto since the third day of racing. As per usual, Vincent Riou has been very incisive.

Since the race start, on Monday 2 May, the duo has been embroiled in a breathtaking duel. “The Transat is an extraordinary race and you certainly don’t get bored!”, Armel enthuses. “Our route has been far from direct. We’ve virtually written our names on the chart! We’ve experienced every type of weather in a very short space of time. I’m going to keep driving hard right the way to the end. I’m continuing to make headway by really applying myself in the manœuvres, managing the boat and drawing up my strategy. As we’re closing on the finish now, I’m trying to control my pursuers a little more.”

Armel Le Cléac’h hunting down his first big win in IMOCA
Last night, Armel Le Cléac’h had to negotiate a tricky transition with the wind easing as it shifted round from the north-west to the south. “This will be the last key point of the race before the long tack to the finish”, explained Armel, who logically slowed up last night, but has picked up the speed again this morning (a little over 12 knots). Though caution is the watchword prior to his arrival in New York, an upset in the hierarchy would be rather surprising now.

Armel is a fighter, who will never let up, but weather and technology conspiring against him is always a possibility in an offshore race. If he is first to make landfall in New York, this would be a big win for Armel Le Cléac’h after second places in the Vendée Globe (in 2008-2009 then in 2012-2013), the Route du Rhum (in 2010) and the Transat Jacques Vabre (in 2015). We knew Armel was one of the big favourites in the next Vendée Globe and victory in The Transat would confirm this status…

Two great sailors battle for qualification in the Vendée Globe

StMichel-Virbac Sailing Team © Arnaud Pilpré

Deprived of a satellite antenna, Vincent Riou continues to lie in ambush
Has he loosened his grip? “That’s not what we’re about”, warns Vincent Riou. Indeed, the winner of the Vendée Globe 2004-2005 will also be battling hard right the way to the finish. However, the lack of a working satellite antenna makes the receipt of grib files rather complicated to say the least. “It’s difficult to have a proper vision of what’s happening. That said, watching how a boat in front is sailing is a great indication of what awaits us”, he points out. It all makes for interesting viewing in any case, particularly given that Vincent has opted to keep his classic, straight daggerboards with a view to the upcoming Vendée Globe.

Evidently, he is still managing to keep pace with Armel Le Cléac’h and he’s maintaining his lead over Jean-Pierre Dick, skipper of the other foiling IMOCA still out on the racetrack. Vincent will have another opportunity to confirm his boat’s potential during the New York/Vendée, a course that is supposed to be more favourable for the foilers in principle, thanks to what is essentially a downwind course.

Jean-Pierre Dick’s adventures
Jean-Pierre Dick isn’t going to forget his second participation in The Transat any time soon. First off, the skipper of StMichel-Virbac hit an unidentified floating object. Next up, on Wednesday night, his boat broached after a violent front rolled through. Jean-Pierre Dick: “I was sailing on port tack, about to hunt down the front. All of a sudden, whilst I was at the foot of the mast finishing putting in a second reef, a massive gust of wind blasted in from the other tack. A second later, a second gust of wind of rare violence, laid the boat completely over on her side. I held onto the halyards at the mast foot and fortunately I’d just reduced the sail! A minute later, the wind eased to 20 knots and I was able to salvage the situation. The wind had shifted through 100 degrees. I’m not injured, but it was incredibly dangerous. I was surprised by the violence of the phenomenon.”

There is only minor damage aboard and, barring another mishap, Jean-Pierre Dick should secure a podium place. This Friday morning, he was some 190 miles astern of Armel Le Cléac’h.


by OB / Agence Mer and Media / sail-world.com

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