Two times La Solitaire du Figaro champion Armel Le Cléach (Banque Populaire) said before the start that he was ‘going to be an opportunist’ on this 51st edition. For the second time in as many stages the Vendée Globe winner has been true to his word but this time his risk was positively rewarded.
Prepared to hold further to the east, to leeward of his rivals on last night’s beat from the north Brittany coast 100 miles to Eddystone Lighthouse, Le Cléac’h’s slightly gutsy move was rewarded with a small jump on the pack which this Monday afternoon he has increased to a very useful 3.3 miles over a very compact group of pursuers. Transitioning an occluded front it may be Le Cléac’h was prepared to press his luck, but more likely he saw less cloud coming toward him and so was confident the front had evaporated and was therefore confident in his break away from the peloton.
Early on Stage 1 to the Fastnet and back Le Cléac’h chased his hunches and had strayed away from the pack and initially paid a heavy toll in miles to the leader. But a remarkable comeback got him to fourth at the finish, 10 minutes and 20 seconds behind stage winner Xavier Macaire. It not only got him into contention but also underlined that the 44 year old has ample speed and is very much a title contender. Indeed he would be top of the overall classification this afternoon if the race was stopped. With a new Ultime in build, the Vendée Globe title in his back pocket and the solid support of the French bank, Le Cléac’h has nothing to prove to the sailing world, or his peers.
That said, as the 35 strong fleet rolled downwind in a strengthening WSW’ly wind heading for the Antifer – 100 miles ahead of Le Cléac’h’s bow at 1700hrs French time this afternoon – the remainder of the 404 miles passage from the Baie-de-Saint Brieuc to Dunkirk is going to be very much a speed and stamina test in just over 20kts of following wind, leaving Le Cléac’h in a very strong position.
After his tenth place on the first stage Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa) has delivered on his promise to keep focused, not do anything rash and sail the fleet. He had a very solid windward leg to round Eddystone in 11th but in the very light conditions to Start Point off Plymouth timed his gybes well to use the last of the tide and then get relief inshore whilst missing the worst of the lee of the point. And he has shown enough downwind speed as he sits fifth, 3.9 miles behind Le Cléac’h and in good company with Pierre Leboucher (Guyot Environnement) beside him in fourth and the two boats in front of them less than half a mile ahead. All of the leaders were making 9.5-10kts.
Sam Goodchild (Leyton) has also made a strong opening to Stage 2 and was tenth but took a two mile gybe to the north to reposition himself for the long leg to Antifer and had dropped to sixteenth.
The 30 year old British skipper, a native of Devon and Cornwall, reported after Eddystone this morning, “My cross channel was good but I tacked a little bit early and lost three or four places. Armel went big east and it came good for him. He has an advantage for sure. I got some sleep, about an hour and a half, and we can see Plymouth which is nice, nice to see England where I have not been for a long time, nice to see home, even if we would need to do two weeks quarantine if we stepped ashore!”
Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) has also had a good day, climbing from the depths of the fleet to profit on the leg along the Devon and Dorset coast – perhaps spurred by the fans who were out cheering him on at Prawle Point, the southernmost point of Devon – and is up to 11th, 5.5 miles behind leader Le Cléac’h.
At approaching the half way point of the leg, with the winds due remain moderate to fresh for the remainder of the passage to Dunkirk the pacemakers should reach Dunkirk around 2000-2100hrs Tuesday evening.
They said (all around Eddystone, Start Point):
Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019): “I'm a bit rough, tired, I haven't slept much, I thought it would be easy after Start Point, but it seems complicated for a while. I can't wait for the wind to come in so I can sleep, then it will be better. I have four-five competitors in front, I have rolled into some very light winds, it is very very light. “
Anthony Marchand (Groupe Royer-Secours Populaire): “We are along the southern English coast, we have to pay attention to the light wind areas at the points, we do a lot of gybes, it is not easy because there is also a lot of seaweed, a lot of boats had to reverse like me. My objective ? Catch up with Yann Eliès. “