Le Cléac’h wins stage, leads 51st Figaro

Published on September 8th, 2020

Dunkirk, France (September 8, 2020) – Sailing a near perfect 404 miles race from the Baie de Saint-Brieuc where the 35 solo skippers started two days earlier, Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) won Stage 2 of the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro when he crossed the finish line off Dunkirk today at 16:20:34hrs local time.

The 43 year old winner of the last Vendée Globe took 2 days 5 hours 20 minutes and 34 seconds to claim the seventh stage victory of his La Solitaire career, one which now spans 20 years and two overall victories in 2010 and 2013.

While Le Cléac’h takes over the top spot on the General Classification after two stages, Britain’s Sam Goodchild second place finish delivered Britain’s first podium result in the modern era of the race, certainly since Clare Francis won the final leg from Kinsale to Le Croisic in 1975.

Thirty year old Goodchild, who spent the first six years of his life cruising the Caribbean with his parents before taking up racing as a teenager at school in England, finished 34 minutes and six seconds behind Le Cléac’h and two minutes and 22 seconds ahead of 3-time La Solitaire winner Yann Eliès (Queguiner Materiaux-Leucémie Espoir).

Goodchild overhauled Eliès in the final miles to the line to find himself sandwiched between the only two multiple winners of La Solitaire. He moves into third overall, 43 minutes and 59 seconds behind Le Cléac’h and just six minutes and 29 seconds behind second placed Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF).

“Passing Yann was the cherry on the cake,” smiled an exhausted Goodchild who was ninth on the 642 miles first stage round Fastnet and back. “When I moved to France ten years ago, I looked up to these guys and admired them. Yann was winning the Figaro back then and to be on a podium between the two of them today is pretty special. I didn’t expect it to happen and it’s really cool. I’ll try to keep the good work up for the rest of the Solitaire.”

The British solo skipper is in his first year back to La Solitaire after a four year break, and is on course to better his 11th overall in 2014. Scoring a second and first in the warm-up races before La Solitaire showed he was on form despite this being his first season in the one design Figaro Beneteau 3.

His second place today came as a result of good speed, solid tactics and patience, picking off boats throughout the second two legs after rounding Eddystone Lighthouse in sixth.

“Armel has had an awesome race and led from beginning to end so it’s the best I think I could do after he called the right shot in the first leg,” Goodchild acknowledged. “It was slow in coming. It happened with one move at a time and went boat by boat. I’m really happy with second for sure and I’ll just have to try not to let it put too much pressure on for the rest of the Solitaire.”

Le Cléac’h’s stage win is his first since 2013 when he won from Porto to Gijon but he appears to feel his game is reminiscent of his 2010 overall victory when he triumphed on three of the four stages.

“I have the feeling of being in harmony with the boat, with my strategy, but also of being good in terms of speed, an area in which I maybe was not so good on the first leg,” said Le Cléac’h. “I managed to do what I wanted. I positioned myself well and when I took the lead at Eddystone, I was happy with my strategy, it gave me confidence for the future.

“I’m super happy, it’s certainly my seventh stage victory, but above all it’s a good stage victory, I am happy with the way it came, it was strategically built and after that, there was the good speed, everything was fine all the way, I am 100% satisfied.”

On the northwards climb across the English Channel to Eddystone, Le Cléac’h made his winning move, erring furthest to the east where he was best positioned for the wind shift which came as an occluded front dissipated.

After tacking, his leverage to the north of the fleet proved definitive and he was able to lead at the turn off Plymouth, and was never challenged by the chasing pack on what proved a very intense final 100 miles gybing down a narrow corridor bound by the shipping lanes to the north, as they skirted the busiest shipping lane in the world.

“That choice, several routings gave it, but there was an element of risk of falling into a light winds, Armel went there, not the others,” admires Christian Le Pape, the boss of the Finistère Course Offshore Training group at Port-la-Forêt, where Le Cléac’h has been training since his beginnings in the Figaro Bénéteau almost twenty years ago.

“It was slightly gutsy, maybe, but I think he probably saw the cloud had moved away in front of him, suggesting the occlusion was going,” suggested Marcel van Triest, who works on weather strategy with Le Cléac’h as well as Goodchild.

“I was determined, fairly certain of my choice, I really wanted to position myself in the north of the fleet to anticipate the wind shift,” shared Le Cléac’h. “It went well and allowed me to pass Eddystone in first place and to escape. When I felt that it was starting to slacken a bit ahead after Start Point, I took the opportunity to put press on, I steered a lot, because I knew that those meters were going to count double.”

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The four-leg solo 1830 nm race in the latest generation foil-equipped one design Figaro Bénéteau 3 is a fiercely competitive proving ground for solo sailors. Analysis of the race course by the Race Director:

Leg 1: a 642 mile voyage to the Fastnet and back (August 30 to September 2)

“The only waypoint in this first long leg will be the Fastnet Rock, which they will have to leave to starboard. It is going to be very open for the solo sailors from the start, with everyone attempting to find the right tactics and avoid the traps in the Channel and Celtic Sea,” explained Francis Le Goff. Once they have left Saint-Brieuc Bay, the skippers will head for Ireland while avoiding the rocks around the Isles of Scilly and respecting the various shipping lanes (TSS) to the West of Cornwall on the way out and back. Anything is possible. They can go inside or outside the islands, so we can look forward to an exciting tactical game…


Leg 2: 404 miles to Dunkirk via the English coast (September 6 to 8)

Originally to be 497 miles to Dunkirk via the English coast, a light wind forecast shortened the northernmost turning mark to Eddystone off Plymouth and not Wolf Rock off Lands End as programmed. From the start, it will be a 120 nautical miles leg to Eddystone lighthouse followed by a long, fast 160 miles downwind run east up the channel to a mark, Antifer, off Le Havre then continuing 100 miles more on a downwind procession to Dunkirk, the fleet increasingly funneled into a narrow lane, gybing several times down a course bounded by high land to the south and the forbidden shipping lane to their left. The leaders are expected in Dunkirk after about two and a half days at sea.


Leg 3: a 504 mile coastal leg from Dunkirk to Saint-Nazaire (September 12 to 15)

There are going to be some great sights along the way in this third leg with a wide range of backdrops. The Opal, Alabaster, Mother-of-pearl coasts of Normandy and the Pink Granite coast and craggy cliffs at the tip of Brittany, the Megalithic Coast of Southern Brittany, the Love Coast and Jade Coast of the Loire Estauary area. So many brilliant things to see, yet the leg is full of hurdles: tricky headlands and capes, tidal currents, islands and rocks, fishermen… 500 miles of high-tension sailing, with one eye on the charts, and the other on the sails with some sleepless nights ahead.


Leg 4: a 24 hour and 183 mile sprint between the islands for the Grand Finale (September 19 to 20)

After three hard, testing stages, the solo sailors will have to draw deeply on their reserves for for 24 hours of racing, a loop which should take them between the Ile d’Yeu and Belle-Île via the Ile de Groix before seeing them return to the Loire-Atlantique to crown the big winner of this 51st edition which promises to be full of twists and turns.


Source: La Solitaire du Figaro

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