Adrien Hardy crossed the finish line off Roscoff at 16.05.13hrs local time (14:03.13 UTC) this afternoon to win the 535-nautical mile second stage of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro which started from Kinsale, Ireland on Sunday afternoon.
The French solo racer has gained a hard earned reputation as the go-to man when it comes to salvaging stricken ocean racing yachts. A merchant seaman from Nantes, his is the number that projects call when they have an abandoned boat needing recovered.
His most recent missions were bringing the IMOCA 60 SMA to safety after skipper Paul Meilhat was critically injured off Ireland and recovering the debris of the Ultime Banque Populaire trimaran, but there have been Mini 650s, Class 40s as well as pleasure cruisers.
When he crossed the finish line of stage 2 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro from Kinsale to Roscoff in pole position, on the sunny, chilly Bay of Morlaix, Hardy, 34, salvaged his own pride and despatched to the deep some of the painful memories of a very disappointing 20th place on the first stage.
Speaking on the dock, Hardy said: “There were lots of little complications. I was up there in the top five at all the marks. For the past two nights I managed to get that bit extra and get to the front. In general I was fast and got in the right place. That means I can forget the disappointment of the first leg. In sport, you have disappointments and success. Winning is something rare, so I’m feeling very happy about it.”
The on-form Yoann Richomme (HelloWork-Groupe Telegramme) crossed the finish line second, just six minutes and 19 seconds later. In doing so, Yoann extends his overall race lead to a whopping two hours and 34 minutes.
For Hardy, the win in this leg, the fifth stage victory of his career, see him move up to third overall three hours and 34 minutes behind Richomme, and at this midpoint of the four stage race, he must consider his chances of landing his first Solitaire title are beyond saving for the moment.
Armel Le Cléach (Banque Populaire) who was 11th on the first leg and seventh this afternoon in leg two, is now second overall at two hours and 34 minutes behind runaway Richomme.
Relaxed but sharply focused Richomme, a Southampton trained Naval Architect who helped in the testing and development of the new one design boat used for La Solitaire, is the sailor who is dictating terms to a star studded fleet on what has already proven to be an all-encompassing challenge, well worthy of this 50th anniversary edition of La Solitaire.
“It’s fantastic, incredible. I can’t get over it,” an emotional Richomme smiled at the dock. “I never dreamed of getting such a lead. It’s good to have done so well in both legs. I’m lost for words. And rather surprised by it all. I haven’t been involved for very long and being up there is amazing. Eleven months ago, my Class40 dismasted in the harbour in Roscoff with no one to help us. So, it’s a bit different now.”
Yoann, who won La Solitaire in 2016, today lost out by minutes to Hardy, who took a different route down the Channel, passing south, inshore of the Cherbourg TSS exclusion zone, and so overhauled the long time stage leader Richomme as they approached the final turning mark Portsall.
Richomme remarked: “I was trying to deal with the group behind me and I suddenly spotted someone going the long way round. I wondered who it was. Well done to him (Adrien Hardy). He attempted a great option. I was really watching Armel.”
The second leg from Kinsale to Bishop Rock at the Scillies, east up the Channel to the Needles at the Isle of Wight and back to finish in the Bay of Morlaix this afternoon, saw everything from cloud- dodging Doldrums tactics on the Celtic Sea, to dirty, wet, cold high-speed night time reaching in 30-35 knots of wind. And again, last night, the new Figaro 3s were taken to the limit of what is reasonable. Last night on the descent down the channel speeds topped 20 knots and leading skippers averaged 15-16 knots for sustained periods, more usual for an IMOCA 60.
Amongst the seven international competitors taking part, it was Briton Will Harris who was the top placed non-French skipper, finishing sunburned and smiling in 11th place. The solo skipper of Hive Energy was unlucky to catch some weed in the last 30 miles in to the finish which ultimately cost him three places and frustratingly, he was less than a minute behind tenth placed Fabien Delahaye (Loubsol).
Buoyed by the race course passing over his home waters and by the fact he had made a point of training long and hard in big winds before this race, Harris spent most of yesterday in ninth and at one point last night was up to fifth. He showed an ability to sail up through the fleet but proved especially quick in the strong breeze.
Speaking after the leg, Harris, who won the top rookie prize when he last sailed La Solitaire in 2016, said: “I am gutted with the finish in the end. I got a bit of weed after Portsall and I was really quick, I was always catching up places, to finish up having to stop the boat completely and go backwards for a bit and lose three places was frustrating but as I was coming to the finish line there I was thinking how well I and I am really pleased with how I sailed it. I did not have the greatest of starts and I have shown I am fast, I sailed it well and caught up with some really good guys.”
The 25-year-old from Surrey in England also suffered a technical problem with water ingress round his rudder which at one stage threatened his race, as he explained: “Last night when I was hosing downwind I went downstairs and there was loads of water coming in in the boat. I could not work out why. Eventually I climbed to the back of the boat and I could see that where the rudder stock fits into the tiller had demounted and water was pouring in. The whole system was moving and giving the pilot problems. In the moments when it was about speed I was good. It was just some of the uncontrollable things which let me drop back a bit,” Harris summarised.
When asked about the new boat and if he knew of the technical problems which caused three skipper to abandon, Richomme told the assembled media and supporters: “The boat is fantastic and I really enjoyed sailing. You do get very wet, but the boat is well designed. I’m really pleased with the boat, even if you need to bail out and have a sponge to mop up. I spent three years working on the boat and somewhere, I feel that this is my reward. In order to get around the TSS, I had to sail at high speed. The boat was at 18-20 knots all the time. Up on her foils in thirty knots of wind. I felt safer on her than expected, because she remains stable.”
The overall leader admitted that rest is top priority before Sunday’s restart: “I’m exhausted. I almost lost the spinnaker off the Island of Batz. My arms were worn out. The problem with this sort of course is that it is very hard to get any rest, especially when you have three or four others chasing you. Then, there are those that disappear to the right or left and sometimes it pays off. I knew I wasn’t going to catch him, but I wanted to avoid losing too much time.”
For the results of leg two and the overall rankings, visit the website, https://www.lasolitaire-urgo.com/en/. The skippers now have some for a little rest and recovery with the next leg, which is a 450-nautical mile loop of the channel starting and finishing in Roscoff, starting on Sunday 16th June,