With just over 100 nautical miles to go to the finish line at Roscoff on the Bay of Morlaix, Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019) was maintaining a slender lead of just under one mile after passing Bishop Rock at the Scilly Isles this afternoon.
But Stage 3 of La Soliaire du Figaro, from Fécamp to Roscoff, is shaping up to maintain a high level of tension all the way to the finish line. And Roscoff, a regular fixture on the annual French solo racing classic, is notoriously stressful to finish at, especially on a change of tide.
“I am going into defence mode,” warned 28-year-old Quiroga, who originates from the Mediterranean port of Hyères and holds an overall margin of one hour and 36 minutes on the General Classification. Keeping the overall lead might be easier said than done on a stage which has already seen three major compressions, sailors making ten nautical mile comebacks at a tidal gate in light winds.
Quiroga took the lead again in the early hours of the morning on a fast spinnaker reach from the course’s most northerly turn, Saint Gowan shoals off the south-western tip of Wales. Sailing slightly lower and faster than the fleet he was able to manage the transition from reach to upwind slightly better, most notably not having to tack to pass the western edge of the Land’s End exclusion zone. All the time off the wind, Quiroga has had excellent speed.
But the final stretch across the entrance to the English Channel will be far from straightforward. The leaders are skirting the edge of a messy, complex low-pressure system. Sailing more to the west, closer to its centre should yield more wind but at the risk of sailing further. Conversely the direct route might see the breeze dying progressively as the north Breton coast is approached and the remnants of a cut off low looks like it will be centred over the Channel Islands, and so it looks very much like a high wire, tightrope race to the finish line.
Quiroga does have the option to defend against his nearest rivals on the overall standings. Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) who conclusively won the first stage and is second on the General Classification, struggled between the TSS and Bishop Rock and lost more than five miles to lie 27th this afternoon more than ten miles behind the leader.
And third placed ‘wunderkind’ Tom Laperche is fifth at four miles astern of the leader. It is the strong tidal current which have seen the fleet compact and stretch, compact and stretch again since early this morning when Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) led the fleet at Carn Base and then Longships light.
Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) and Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) both had good nights and are up in the top ten as the final leg back to France started. Roberts was quick last night and got himself from 28th to fourth by the exclusion zone which he negotiated neatly and Dolan made up from 21st to eighth. Roberts is well positioned in a fast, experienced group to benchmark himself against and was 3.5 miles behind Quiroga, Dolan was a further mileback.
“Yesterday was not good for me.” Roberts told the media team on the guard boat this morning. “The wind was very tricky going north to Lundy. There were a lot of boats managed to steal up the short with breeze and when I got to Lundy I was nearly in second last place which was hard. But after Gowan I had really good speed with the right sail up and moving quick and managed to hold on with the breeze more to the right. Now I am not far behind. It is a long race.
“I am not too tired yet but am taking a nap shortly but I was on the helm all of last night since Wales. Now is my chance to get a little sleep. I am from England and so sail in the fog quite a lot. I quite like it. But with AIS it is like a computer game. You focus more on the numbers and going fast and have no visual references on the shore.”
Current weather models suggest the leaders should finish into Roscoff just after midday Thursday.
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