Elies wins first leg of La Solitaire du Figaro

The dockside post mortems started almost as soon as Yann Eliès (Generali) crossed the finish line at 1759 and 15 seconds yesterday evening (Saturday), followed within the space of an hour by no less than 15 of his rivals. Numbered among them were most of the big names in this bumper 40th edition of the classic French offshore racing series. In Figaro terms such a neglible time difference between boats means it's still practically level pegging for the overall title, and the start of the second leg next Tuesday is an opportunity to very quickly wipe the slate clean.

Elies himself is in no doubt about the slight margin of his victory, and has no intention of resting on his laurels: “It's only a leg win, and I don't plan on it being the last, but I'll enjoy it all the same, and also try to keep thinking about what comes next. I want to go the full distance, to win an overall victory. I've got to win this event one of these days! It's my fifth leg victory, but I can't stop there.” Or as 8th-placed skipper Thierry Chabagny (Suzuki Automobiles) succinctly puts it: “This was really just a test run, of importance only to the winners.”

Leaving aside the fact that seven months ago it would have been difficult to imagine Eliès coming back to winning form so soon after his severe accident in the Vendée Globe, there are few real surprises in the first 20. All the main favourites are there, among them six previous winners of the event : Armel Le Cléac'h (Brit Air, 3rd), Charles Caudrelier-Bénac (Bostik, 7th), Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia, 9th), Jérémie Beyou (Bernard Paoli, 13th), Eric Drouglazet (Luisina, 14th) and Nicolas Troussel (Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne, 18th). In such an extraordinarily competitive fleet the pressure is doubled – in any other year to finish in the top 10 is an achievement, this time it takes a real effort just to get into the top 20.

First into Coruna of this year's 15 race débutants was 27-year old Breton skipper Paul Meilhat (Domino's Pizza): “I'm happy, the leg has turned out well for me. The route I took followed the strategy I'd decided at the start, I managed to carry out what I had intended to do on the water. I finished 15th, just under an hour behind Yann… but what's even better is that there's only the top sailors around me. It's encouraging to be able to keep up with them. It shows that I'm going well, especially in terms of speed. It's very motivating for the next leg.”

Among the sailors with less to smile about so far are the two British entries, Nigel King (Nigel King Yachting), who placed 39th, two and a half hours behind the winner, and Jonny Malbon (Artemis), 50th with a deficit of six and a half hours. King struggled with computer issues and a leaking ballast pump, both now fixed, and is looking forward to Tuesday's restart. For Malbon it has been something of a baptism of fire in this highly competitive class: “It's certainly been a disappointing start, and I've got a lot of work to do. The boat is fine, and I was very clear on my strategy, which should have worked, but I made a couple of errors and was late in getting the spinnaker up. I just need to work out how to keep the boat going consistently fast like these other guys!”

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