In his office in the La Base Lorient, around him the Banque Populaire team is in full swing. preparing the maxi trimaran for the next outing, for this season, and - longer term - for the Autumn's Route du Rhum and then the 2019 Ultime race around the world.
Right now Le Cléac'h is visibly relaxed but, even so, cannot hide his desire to get back out on the water, to be testing the technical choices they have made for the giant multi, and to be working up the the reliability of the machine and its systems.
In between meetings with the architects, the technical team and before training sails, Le Cléac'h was happy to return to his thoughts and feelings of a year ago, and the intervening period since he won solo racing's biggest prize.
What memories do you cherish most of your Vendée Globe win?
"The last hours of sailing were really magical. The meteorological situation forced me to arrive by a very northern routing into Les Sables d'Olonne. Suddenly, I found myself crossing in the Iroise Sea, then along the coast by Glénan, Belle-Île, sealing the win by sailing through my own back yard, if you like. I had some contact with fishing boats during the night and, as I approached the finish, I really started to feel the whole magnitude of the event and what was happening. The first boats that you see thenbecome more and more numerous as you close towards the line. You start to recognise your mates. Little by little, the bubble which you have locked yourself into, so as not to lose the thread of the race, opens up. It was a strange feeling; there was an urge to be overwhelmed by what was happening to me, but at the same time the fundamental need to keep it all locked down, to keep the situation under control until the actual finish line.
After the passage of the line, everything just explodes, especially when I was able to share these moments with Aurélie (Armel's wife), my children and my team. It's only when the pressure escapes that you really realize just how hard and demanding this race is. "
After, there was the channel and the huge welcome?
"Fortunately I already had two Vendée Globe behind me. I had time to prepare for the resulting media storm. I was fortunate to have to wait two hours in front of the port while the tide rose before beginning the passage back up the channel. These two hours represented something of a decompression chamber. In practical and emotional terms that was very useful. And so I suppose I really took full advantage of the channel, especially since I knew that this moment would be always remain unique in my life. Not only had I achieved my goal, but also it represented a page turning. "
At that time did you think of your two previous Vendée Globe?
"Inevitably. First of all going from both seconds to winning is two different things. In 2009, I was delighted and surprised at that second place when it all went well beyond my expectations. In 2013 I feel like I fought well but it was François who was the deserved winner. This time I felt I had realised my goal and that felt all the better. Before the start I had been clear that only one place interested me.
At the same time, no matter how prepared you are, the media whirlwind that carries you away as soon as you get to the pontoon is scary. In a few hours you go from your own purely private world, that little cocoon as the solo sailor, to be taken away by this crowd who wants to know everything.....immediately, right away. Fortunately with the team we were pretty well prepared .
What is the best part of that time?
"First of all, it is actually a pleasure to finally be able to tell everything, all the different states through which you pass, the high points and the misfortunes during such a race. It's good to be able to reveal some of what you have experienced, recalling things and tapping into the human dimensions of the race. As long as I'm in the race, I'm in the zone, I'm afraid to give away anything to my rivals, anything that might be considered ammunition for them to get back at me. Then, suddenly, it is over. It's easier to let go of it all, knowing that I I will not return to the Vendée Globe. And then, I had the satisfaction of getting rid of the label Poulidor (editor's note, Raymond Poulidor was a famous French cyclist who raced in the shadow of Eddy Mercx and Jacques Anquetil who finished second in the Tour de France three times and third five times https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Poulidor) which had started to be attached to me.
And when the storm of interest subsides?
"There were no blues, no big comedown, just an prolonged sense of exhaustion, that's for sure, but the goal had been achieved. Two things really help: on the one hand, my education has always taught me to stay grounded, to be wary of passing glories. And the other thing is the family circle; my parents and Aurélie made sure it did not run away with me. The family are there for you when things are not going well. It would be wrong to forget that when you reach this status. And, besides, it all fades pretty fast. That is just fine with me!© JEAN MARIE LIOT / DPPI
You saw the the need to write a book?
"I think it was the right thing. It was a good way for me to take stock, to lay out my journey, to tell what had driven and influenced my sporting progress and to credit the people who helped me to become what I am. It was the right thing to do."
To know at the finish of the race that you already another project in the offing (Ultime) that helped?
" Without a doubt, especially since I had finished the job on the Vendée Globe. That is the strength of the Banque Populaire team. From July 2016 I decided to devote myself 100% to the Vendée Globe project and let them manage the multihull project. "
And what if the victory had not come, you did not win?
"Obviously it would all have been much more difficult emotionally and psychologically. I might not now have the same serenity. But even had that been the case it would not have felt too bad to be moving forwards. You just have to find other things, new goals. I already experienced disappointment and moved on accordingly. Remember in 2014 when I had to step down from the Route du Rhum campaign (due to injury) and hand over the helm of the boat to Loïck (Peyron). And so we also profit, grow and learn from failures. "