In his thirteenth attempt at the La Solitaire du Figaro, Yann Eliès (Groupe Queguiner - Le Journal des Entreprises) put in a masterful performance on the final leg to conclusively win the 43rd edition.
Yann Elies, Groupe Queguiner / Journal des entreprises - La Solitaire du Figaro 2012
The race history already bears the Eliès name – it was 33 years ago that his father Patrick won the race with another dominant performance, leading all four stages of the 1979 edition – but Yann's 2012 victory will only add to the legendary status of this toughest of solo races.
Having won the first stage with an 11-minute advantage over Morgan Lagravière (Vendée), Eliès held the overall lead throughout the race, but was tested hard by a talented trio that included Lagraviere, Fabien Delahaye (Skipper Macif 2012), and 2009 race victor Nicolas Lunven (Generali), with stage 2 winner Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) putting in another strong challenge.
Eliès started the final stage of the race from Saint Gilles Croix de Vie on the back foot, with a mid-fleet position as Lunven and Morvan set the early pace. However he is not a man to give up easily – he self-funded this season's Figaro campaign until a sponsor could be found – and as the fleet departed the Vendée shores he steadily worked his way up into the top 10.
Those 13 years of experience told as he kept with the pace of the leaders throughout the first evening, biding his time until the Glenan archipelago when he was able to make serious gains, moving into the top five by Pointe de Penmarche. Each mark of the course proved an opportunity for Eliès to climb the rankings, taking fourth through the Raz du Sein, then third through Finistere, chasing Delahaye and Lagravière across the Channel.
Around 1.5 miles covered these top five skippers along the English coast, with Eliès stealing the lead as they passed Portland Bill just before midnight last night to show the way around Needles Fairway buoy. As the fleet re-crossed the Channel this morning there was no letup in pressure, with Eliès fending off several challengers including Jean-Pierre Nicol (Bernard Controls), who had a storming final section of the race. However, by the final 20 miles of racing Eliès had secured a half mile advantage which he converted into a solid win by three minutes, 31 seconds from Morgan Lagravière – making last year's top ‘Bizuth' an impressive second overall with a deficit of 33 minutes from Eliès. Third home in the final stage was Erwan Taberly (Nacarat) with Nicolas Lunven (Generali) fourth, Lunven also gaining third in the race overall.
Amidst the elation, there was also sheer exhaustion – changeable weather conditions, busy shipping lanes and strong breezes making this third and final leg as physically tough as any in a race characterized by fearsome levels of sleep deprivation. Lagravière said he was as happy as the winner, but also cautioned: 'It's been a complicated race, there were ups and downs, good and bad conditions. Now I say that I will never come back on the Solitaire, it's too hard, I don't know if I will have energy enough to do it again.'
First rookie overall was Thomas Norman (Financière de l'Echiquier), despite a strong showing by Julien Villion (Seixo Promotion) who finished ninth in the third stage.
For the three British skippers the third stage also saw the best performance of the race, with Sam Goodchild (Artemis 23) starting the inshore section in third. Goodchild maintained a top 10 position for much of the 486-mile leg, racing among highly experienced French competitors on his second attempt at the race before slipping to 14th in the final few hours. Overall Goodchild finished in 24th, one place ahead of team mate Nick Cherry in 25th (Artemis 77) while the youngest sailor in the fleet, Henry Bomby (Artemis 37) finished in 31st. Portuguese sailor Francisco Lobato (Roff) was 27th, and Kristen Songe Molle (NOR, Kristin For Fulle Sail) 33rd.
Yann Eliès (Groupe Queguiner - Le Journal des Entreprises), Leg 3 and overall winner of La Solitaire du Figaro 2012: 'At last, this was my thirteenth Solitaire! After having been so close to it twice, I'm so happy with this win and how it all went down to the very last stretch. To win you need to be hard on yourself and never give up. The three skippers behind me are the future champions, one has already won it and the other two will surely do one day. They are very, very strong. I needed to be on another planet, on my very own little cloud to beat them.
Since the start I've managed to do what I wanted, it may look simple from the outside, but believe me it's so hard. I've been constantly questioning my choices, taking high risks, working hard because this is what one needs to push the boat. I reckon I've come of age now, it's been so many years that I have raced the Figaro, the tricks, the best trim, the boat handling they come with experience, you don't need to think about them. And after 13 races I guess they are part of me now.
I've been thinking about my father (who won the race back in 1979), my parents who are in Polynesia and surely are watching this. I've thought about my son Titouan because I won my first leg in 2002 the year he was born here in Cherbourg. I've been pondering all along the race and I came up with a thought: I have to win in Cherbourg.'
Morgan Lagravière (Vendée), second on Leg 3 and second overall: 'I'm happy, exhausted but elated. This is the best result of my whole sailing career, even if it's not really a victory because I finish second. Because I got it through suffering. No matter what they say, La Solitaire is a hard race. And on this kind of legs it's a pain, all those days fighting, enduring… It was like racing on a dinghy but for 50 or 60 hours and I managed to stay in between performance and exhaustion. I'm the happiest man on earth today, maybe even more than Yann!'
Nicolas Lunven (Generali), fourth on Leg 3 and third overall: 'I'm very pleased, because it was not easy with Fabien (Delahaye) and Morgan (Lagravière). Yann had a good margin during this leg, but with the other two it was very, very close. At a certain point I was no longer sure to get on the podium, that's why I am so happy. It's been a tricky leg, the forecast from Météo Consult was right, the wind was variable and shifty. I slept very little, even last night after rounding Fairway, the breeze was so unstable… It's good it's over!'
Thomas Normand (Financière de l'Echiquier), 27th in the third leg and first ‘rookie' overall: 'I have mixed feelings about this win because Julien (Villion) has done a very nice race and I'm a bit frustrated for not having dueled with him. Still, I'm super happy to have reached my goal and to win among the rookies. It's something I've been dreaming about over the last six months of training. I do not properly realize it is for real, I guess it will sink in later. I've heard and read so many things about La Solitaire, the sailors' stories that said it's hard, it's intense, but I didn't expect it to be like this. It's crazy, one has to live it to understand, and this puts Yann's victory and last year's win by Jérémie (Beyou) into a completely different perspective, once one has experienced it. You realize how hard it is to make such a performance. You keep discovering more about yourself day by day during this race, finding your limits are always a bit further than you thought.'
Sam Goodchild (GBR, Artemis 23) 24th overall: 'This was good race, I had a lot of fun. It was very, very hard work as the wind didn't stop changing, it was quite close racing but I generally managed to hang on to the front pack for a bit longer which made it a lot more productive as I learnt a lot more from sailing next to guys who know what they were doing. I am really happy to end the Solitaire du Figaro on a high! The whole leg was great and being with the leaders for the leg was really rewarding as I learnt so much. The low for me is that I have had so little sleep, maybe just two or three hours in the last 72 hours. I got half an hour last night, in two slots of 15 minutes, which is the most I've had since the start. Before though that I hadn't slept for than 10 minutes at a time as it was impossible as the wind hasn't stayed the same for more than five minutes.'
Nick Cherry (GBR, Artemis 77) 25th overall: 'I started as bad as I could have done. When I was rounding the third mark in a big bunch of boats I was halfway through dropping the spinnaker when I accidentally knocked off the autopilot with my leg, so I had to let go of the spinnaker to avoid a collision with another boat. The end result wasn't the best result ever but I enjoyed the leg and took a lot away from it.'
Henry Bomby (GBR, Artemis 37) 31st overall: 'Looking at the end result I think I finished 20 minutes behind the leader, which is fantastic. I was at the back of the pack that finished first, so considering the problems I had at the beginning of the leg and how I dealt with them on this leg compared to the previous leg I have learnt a lot which is really positive. However coming round the Needles Fairway I filled the ballast on the wrong side so I lost a bit doing that. I was aching all over and barely had enough energy to trim sails. I then slept for half an hour and got back into it for the final few hours – I have never found a bit of the race that hard before.'
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