The organisers of the Aquece Rio International Sailing Regatta, with two years until the opening of the Olympic Games in Rio, have laid on a first-rate spread. And, just the once won't hurt, the sailors are getting to reap the benefits before the other athletes. In the Nacra 17 series, Franck Cammas and Sophie de Turckheim on Groupama are representing France alongside Billy Besson and Marie Riou and they are up against fourteen crews from other countries.
Groupama - Aquece Rio International Sailing Regatta
In terms of sport, you can't get much better than the Olympic Games, with the exception of football. In terms of sailing, these same Games are still suffering the comparison with the America's Cup, the Volvo Ocean Race and even the Vendée Globe or the Route du Rhum. And yet, you just have to take a closer look at the programmes run by those candidates up for selection to understand what low regard the French media and general public have for it.
Just imagine a public survey in which you'd ask if 'Nicolas Hénard is a politician or a double Olympic Tornado champion', or whether 'Olivier de Kersauson sailed with Thierry Péponnet to take the gold 470 medal in the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988'. The answers would certainly be disturbing...
As such, Franck Cammas' arrival in this little-known world of Olympic preparation is virtuous in the sense that it is increasing the prestige of very real yet anonymous champions like Billy Besson and Marie Riou, as well as reminding spectators of some key rules, such as the fact that just one crew represents each series at the Games. As such, we can't expect to see Cammas and Besson at the helm of a Nacra in Rio in two years' time.
However, for the Test Event 2014, it's not just possible but above all it's very real as they both won their ticket here during the Sailing World Cup in Palma early this year. Accompanied by their coach Franck Citeau, together they'll discover the various race zones for the Games. We get the low-down with the skipper of Groupama:
The race zones:
'There are two. One is offshore and open to the tradewinds and the accompanying seas. It's pretty technical as it's choppy, but the wind scarcely varies in direction. It's a race zone where you need to be very quick as tactics won't dominate.
On the interior stretch of water however, it's quite the opposite. The sea is flat and the wind is very shifty, both in terms of strength and direction. It's a bit of a lottery. There's no logic to it,' explains Franck, who could have added that it would be a very fine race zone for the Extreme 40s...
'There are sixteen crews and aside from the Italians and the Spanish, all the top players are here. It's interesting as it's virtually the same number of sailors as there will be in the Games, which will see twenty nations competing in the Nacra. It's a far cry from the Sailing World Cup where there were between 70 and 80 crews. We've been training everyday since our arrival, both with Billy and Marie, as well as the crews from other countries. Things have been going well, but that doesn't mean much. We'll have to wait till the real racing begins'.
'We've received a welcome fit for a king. As was the case during the Games in Barcelona in 1992, Sailing is at the heart of the competition and not a few hundred kilometres away as is often the case. The Brazilians are really keen to do well and you can sense that. It's really something to get such a great reception. The only thing you have to bear in mind is that you can only count on your team from a technical viewpoint. We were aware of that so we've brought all the necessary spares in the containers.'
'From Monday to Thursday, we're competing in three races a day and on the last day, Friday, it will be the Medal Race, which is reserved for the top ten. The interior or exterior race zone has been defined in advance by the organisers so now it's over to us'.