When Frenchman Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne – CMB Performance) crossed the finish line off Saint-Nazaire this blustery Wednesday evening at 18:54:48hrs to win the third and final stage of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro, he punched the air with delight, knowing that his stage win by a comfortable margin has provisionally secured him the overall title.
With his nearest title rival, Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie) 13 nautical miles behind, the 25-year-old pre-race favourite, Laperche, soon eclipsed the 14 minutes of time advantage that Pirouelle had held going into this final 640 nautical miles stage.
The stage started on Sunday and took the 32 strong fleet across the Bay of Biscay to a mark off Galicia, Los Farallones, before a fast roller coaster downwind back across the Biscay in winds gusting to 40 knots at times.
Winner of all three solo events this season, leading up to the annual solo racing pinnacle, this three-stage La Solitaire du Figaro, Laperche had finished third in the last two La Solitaires.
He first came to prominence in his rookie year when he finished second into Kinsale in June 2019, just 33 minutes behind stage winner Yoann Richomme. A qualified engineer and meticulous technician, Laperche was soon snapped up by Vendée Globe winner Francois Gabart as the co-skipper of his Ultime trimaran.
Laperche was widely tipped to win this year, not least on the strength of these wins in the Solo Maître Coq, the Le Havre All Mer Cup and the Solo Guy Cotten.
Although he consistently led the peloton on the first two stages, both times he was thwarted by outlying groups catching up and passing. Content and with a maturity beyond his years he was content to bide his time, Laperche was ninth in Etape 1 and third in Etape 2, to start 14 minutes behind Pirouelle, the former 470 Olympic campaigner, who won stage 2 into Port La Foret.
Laperche grew up on the Bay of Quiberon and quickly tasted success in a number of different classes winning the Open Bic world title, a windsurfing world title and in the Open 5.70.
As a youngster, through his father, he met great sailors like Laurent Bourgnon, Steve Ravussin, Erwan Le Roux and Thomas Coville before winning the Brittany talent trials which gave him support since his rookie year of 2019 when the new Figaro Beneteau 3 was launched.
Just as he has often been the first to initiate a key move this race so too yesterday after being one of the most northern boats through a transition in the morning – where Pirouelle separated to the south – he was first to tack SW to the South Farallones mark after a small front crossed. He was able to lead around that mark yesterday evening, perfectly rested and prepared for the heinous, edge of control, 24 hours run back to France.
From here it was a high-speed, down-hill blast back towards the finish line three miles out from Saint-Nazaire. With average speeds of 13 knots and sustained surfing to 16 and 18kts, the front of the fleet put the pedal-down through turbulent, south-westerly winds and seas of 3.5-4m.
However, with a lead established immediately after the turn at the Spanish coast all those chasing Laperche could do was to try to beat his boat speed and pray that he would make a mistake that would let them slip past.
Laperche, a leading light at the Pole Finistere training group which produces most La Solitaire winners, he has said several times he feels especially confident at speed and under stress after spending so much time on Gabart’s Ultime. At the moment he seems like Gabart’s perfect first lieutenant and perhaps in time an heir apparent.
For a large proportion of the leg, his racing and training companion Gaston Morvan (Région Bretagne – CMB Espoir) – last year’s top rookie – was fighting hard to be in a position to pounce, should any opportunity occur. At one stage Morvan was only 3.5 miles behind and matching speeds until 0430hrs this morning when Laperche outsailed him, leaving him to finish second.
Laperche said after crossing the line, “ I can’t believe it, considering the names that have won this race this for me is quite incredible. I’ve been third twice. I’ve used a lot of energy but this is my best Figaro race.
“This third leg went really well for me and I think I have won the overall (editor’s note: provisional rankings before the jury) because I must have more than a quarter of an hour’s lead over Guillaume (Pirouelle), unless he’s sailing at 50 knots to get here!
“Coming back across Biscay went well the whole time in the end the wind wasn’t that strong and I didn’t mess up, but I had left a lot of energy to go fast. Things didn’t pay off in the first two stages when I was leading the fleet before, but this time it should be good.”
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