It is a very special formula which delivers outright victory in the Vendée Globe, the solo non stop around the world race which starts this Saturday 10th November at 1302hrs local time from Les Sables d’Olonne in France’s Vendée region on the Atlantic coast.
The seventh edition of the race is perhaps one of the most open yet. Given the range of variables which come into play over the 24048 miles course predicting a possible winner is never easy, not least considering that over past six editions 49% of the starters have been forced to retire.
The economic climate which has prevailed since the 2008-9 edition has perhaps reduced the possible fleet size but in many respects it has also polarised the overall calibre and professionalism of the entries. Even so there are still a number of skippers for whom simply finishing back into Les Sables d’Olonne in Feburary next year will represent success in itself.
The favourites….in theory
On paper if half of the skippers who are entered are equipped with the skills, experience and boats capable of winning this Vendée Globe there are probably three soloists who stand out as favourites. Armel Le Cléac’h sailed a smart, well modulated race to finish second in the last edition with a boat which was not the quickest in the fleet. He returns with a new generation design Banque Populaire. Vincent Riou (PRB) is the only skipper to have won the race before, triumphing in the 2004-5 race.
Both are equally open in their ambition to win, whilst Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3), twice winner of the two-handed Barcelona World Race, is slightly more discrete in revealing his ambition, to make the transition to solo success.
All three sailors have well funded, long term programmes with well optimised latest design generation boats and all have accumulated the racing and training miles which should ensure a measure of reliability.
Add to this trio are number of podium prospects. François Gabart (Macif) is considered the best young, emerging talent. His project has been managed by double Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux and Gabart has already won the Transat BtoB race last winter. He is methodical and highly motivated and has also has a new generation VPLP Verdier design. And from the same lineage of talent Jérémie Beyou (Maitre Coq) is a twice winner of France’s solo Solitaire du Figaro race which is seen as the proving ground for aspiring Vendée Globe skippers.
Marc Guillemot has to be considered a podium contender. His 2008-9 race saw him finish third overall. His race was perhaps the richest in terms of human experience – he stood by the injured Yann Elies in the southern ocean, battled around the world with a damaged mast track which meant he sailed most of the course with two reefs in his mainsail, and finally lost his keel 1000 miles from the finish.
Switzerland’s Bernard Stamm has twice won round the world races with stops but has never finished the Vendée Globe. But he has one of the most powerful new boats in the fleet and if he can keep it intact represents an outside podium chance.
The Best of British
The British duo Mike Golding (Gamesa) and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) cannot be discounted in assessing possible podium finishers. Thomson has more reliable, proven allround boat which as well as winning the Route du Rhum transatlantic finished second in last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic raced and more recently reduced the outright Transatlantic speed record by more than 24 hours.
Thomson himself is more rounded, more experienced and better able to moderate his attack than previous races and is determined to achieve a solid finish in this race.
Golding has already achieved a third in the 2004-5 race and lead both that edition and the last, heading the fleet December 2008 when he lost his mast. He is racing his fourth Vendée Globe with a boat which is now well optimised and has achieved a high degree of reliability.
And within that enclave of possible podium finishers French favourite Jean Le Cam, second ahead of Golding in 2004-5 cannot be overlooked although he has not yet seriously raced his SynerCiel which is a 2007-8 design.
To finish first, first you have to finish
Then there are those who are focused more on finishing, letting the result arrive for itself. In saying that they will push hard and have a good chance of finishing on the sterns of the ‘favourites’. Kito de Pavant on Groupe Bel has said his primary goal is to get back to finish in Les Sables d’Olonne after having to retire within the first 48 hours of the last race and retiring from the last Barcelona World Race at Cape Horn with keel damage. Briton Sam Davies finished fourth in the last edition and became a global sailing star. She has an older 2004 design and is aiming to sail a better race than last time, though she may have less chance of improving on her 2008-9 result.
Spain’s Javier ‘Bubi’ Sanso returns to the Vendée Globe after a 10 years absence but with the newest design, Acciona 100% Eco Powered. This edition also sees the return of Bertrand de Broc (Your Name Around the World EDM Projects). And Switzerland’s Dominque Wavre (Mirabaud) completes the list of contenders at 57 years old with seven round the world races to his credit.
A sense of adventure
Finally, there are the trio whose success is already to be praised, making the start of the race, four Vendée Globe rookies with older boats: Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives-Couer) Poland’s Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutowski (ENERGA), the Italian Alessandro Benedetto (Team Plastique) and the youngest skipper in the fleet Louis Burton (Bureau Valley).
Jean-Pierre Dick, Virbac-Paprec 3: “I did my first Vendée Globe to see what it was like. In the second I was an outsider. I have done well in two handed races. But solo I am still learning. I am always humble when it comes to the ocean, but I think the podium is a realistic hope and to win is possible.”
Kito de Pavant, Groupe Bel: “It is difficult to set a goal because the Vendée Globe is such a big thing. So much can happen and will happen. My number 1 goal is to reach the finish line in Les Sables. I have started twice but yet to finish. Last time people were expecting a lot. And this time they expect more which suits me just fine.”
Mike Golding, Gamesa: “I have started three races and finished third before. So the goal this time is at least to finish on the podium. Winning is not inconceivable. The Vendée Globe is a strange and special beast. There are so many things to overcome but always there is the element of luck that you need in your favour.”
François Gabart, Macif : I am ambitious and I have high ambitions. Even starting a race like the Vendée Globe is ambitious and to even finish is difficult in itself. Many great sailors have failed. But I think that if I can finish that represents being in the top half of the fleet. I think there are three boats which are probably a cut above the rest : PRB, Virbac-Paprec 3 and Banque Populaire. I don’t think I am far behind them. I think I represent a good underdog. Statistically I am not in the best position to win but it is possible. »
Marc Guillemot, Safran: "My ambitions are straightforward to get to the end of January and arrive in Les Sables d’Olonne in good shape. That was not the case four years ago. Why can I not win in 2013? I’m ready!
Bernard Stamm, Cheminées Poujoulat: “ I am prepared to win otherwise I would not be here. But, equally so it’s the same for the others. If they had no chance of winning, neither would I.”