Experience was ultimately the key for the winner of the 2014 La Solitaire du Figaro Eric Bompard cachemire which finished into Cherbourg Octeville Wednesday. The 38-year-old Jérémie Beyou who won the fourth and final stage of the race was joined on the podium after his 14th participation by two 30-year-olds and a 25-year-old.
Second placed Corentin Horeau (Bretagne Credit Mutuel Performance) is on his third participation at the age of 25. Both his parents are alumni of the Whitbread Round the World Race. Growing up in la Trinité he was bound to sail and benefits from having won the Bretagne Crédit Mutuel selection. He has been working with three times winner Michel Desjoyeaux and sailed the Transat AG2R with the double Vendée Globe winner.Horeau finished only 17 minutes and 56 seconds behind Beyou and was in contention to win overall until probably the last 50 miles when he was really tracked and covered by the wily triple victor.
Third placed Charlie Dalin (Normandy Elite Team) is also 30 and was on his third La Solitaire with a best placed finish of 14th in 2012. Horeau made the jump to second from 20th overall last year. Dalin a naval architecture graduate of Southampton who sails with 2008 winner Nicolas Troussel on the Tour Voile had a best finish of 14th which he gained in 2012. A former Mini 650 sailor, he was runner up in the 2009 Mini Transat but did not race La Solitaire last year.
The 45th edition of La Solitaire remained open until the end of the final stage, delivered a good range of courses, weather conditions and points of sail and four different skippers won successive legs. Into Plymouth it was Alexis Loisin (Groupe Fiva), to Roscoff Yann Eliès (Groupe Queguenier-Leucemie Espoir) to Les Sables d'Olonne it was Gildas Mahé (Interface Concept) and finally Beyou into Cherbourg Octeville. Beyou of course broke the La Solitaire taboo that the winner of the prologue practice race never wins the race overall.
Beyou is undoubtedly driven by the disappointment of having to abandon the Vendée Globe for a second time. He grew up on the Bay of Morlaix. His father runs VW garages and in the eighties built three boats which were called Blended, Bottled and Distilled. He won his first French solo offshore championships in 2002 and in 2005 had an incredible season when he won every Figaro race he entered.
He made nine attempts before he won La Solitaire, his first stage win coming after racing 34 legs. That same year he also won the ORMA world championship on Banque Populaire along with skipper Pascal Bidégorry. Béyou is also an accomplished weather router, working on the Transat Jacques Vabre. And he won the TJV itself with Jean Pierre Dick in 2011 after taking his second overall victory on La Solitaire, equalling the record of two friends from his childhood on Morlaix Bay, Armel Le Cléac'h and Nicolas Troussel, which he now – of course – surpasses.
The presence of younger sailors on the podium or winning legs is increasingly prevalent, particularly those who can sustain two or three participations at a relatively young age. Adrien Hardy in 2010, Morgan Lagravière in 2013, winning stages and podiums for François Gabart, second to Armel Le Cléa'ch in 2010, Fabien Delahaye second in 2011, Morgan Lagravière again in 2012, Xavier Macaire in 2013! The new wave was uninhibited, freethinking but worked relentlessly at Pole Port-la-Forêt, Lorient or elsewhere. But so too there are the committed, hard core sailors Yann Elies, Gildas Morvan, Erwan Tabarly, Thierry Chabagny, Vincent Biarnes, Alain Gautier and Jean-Paul Mouren …
Top of the Beneteau Bizuth, Rookie, podium is Gwénolé Gahinet (Safran-Guy Cotten) who was pushed hard by the British Armada from the Artemis Offshore Academy. Gahinet, some might say, has La Solitaire du Figaro-Eric Bompard cachemire in his DNA. Like double winner Yann Eliès he is a second generation Figarist, father Gilles Gahinet winning overall twice, in 1997 and 1980. Gahinet has already won the AG2R Transatlantic this year as co-skipper with Paul Meilhat and came to La Solitaire after three years racing in the Mini 650 class, including his overall MiniTransat win in 2011.
Gahinet only overtook Artemis' Sam Matson on the leg into Les Sables d'Olonne but extended on the fourth leg. But while Gahinet took the top step on the rookies' dias, Artemis sailors Matson and Rich Mason took second and third respectively.
“There was quite a battle because I only won one leg, it was fairly level between Sébastien Simon, Sam Matson and myself. I managed to be the most consistent of the three of us. However, when we were passing Guernsey, while I covered Sam, I went too wide and I was afraid I'd cross back behind him,” added Gahinet, who had only 32 minutes lead over Matson at the start of the fourth leg. But after just over 13 days of racing in cumulative time, the skipper of Safran-Guy Cotten managed to extend the gap to 52 minutes over Matson, the young Briton, in the overall rookie ranking.
Matson and Mason finish their first Solitaire race inspired for the future, debriefing today with the Artemis Offshore Academy in the hot sunshine of Cherbourg-Octeville, already discussing plans for next time.