The start of the M34 season prophesied the fights to come. Newcomers Franck Cammas and Thomas Coville skillfully faced their competitors. Veteran Daniel Souben was the only one to match Cammas, recent winner of the Volvo Ocean Race, and Thomas Coville, skipper of the Sodebo maxi-trimaran. 35 days before the Tour de France à la Voile, it’s only logical for the three sailors to lead the Spring Championship, which will finish in a few days with the Normandy Sailing Week.
Once Le Havre’s race is over, Cammas, Coville and Souben will head to the Tour de France à la Voile, a major event in the M34 circuit. There will be 13 one-design boats to race along the French coast, where high-level and amateur teams will sail altogether. But who will take the title of Fabien Henry and TPM Coych, who won in July 2012 for the third time? Groupama 34, Courrier Dunkerque 3 or Sodebo are the obvious favourites, but they will still face serious competition with Nicolas Troussel (Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Elite) and Omansail skippered by Cédric Pouligny.
The three favourites were meeting in Paris today, speaking about how impatient they were to begin the month-long race. Franck Cammas, who has been very well since he joined the class, foresees 'a very tight race because of a highly competitive fleet.' His objective is clearly to win. Also seeking victory, Thomas Coville has gathered a strong team around him. 'The team Sodebo has a total of 26 victories on the Tour de France à la Voile! With the quality of the crew gathered here, our goal clearly is to compete with the leaders.' Meanwhile, Daniel Souben is keeping a similar crew to last year. That method worked well at the beginning of the season and, as in 2008 and 2009, he is keen to take the Tour’s trophy again. 'We are delighted to race against competitors such as Cammas or Coville. They are spoiling us with a true sport challenge. It’s a great opportunity for us to have international names on the Tour. That being say, we are obviously aiming to win!'
These three teams capture much of the attention but their competitors also showed their ambitions at the beginning of the season. Cédric Pouligny and his Omani crew are getting better and better on the Tour de France à la Voile. Nicolas Troussel finished third last year and has once more gathered some very talented sailors around him, including offshore and strategy experts Dimitri Deruelle, Christian Ponthieu and Eric Peron; Troussel calls them the 'executives.'
Corentin Douguet is once again mixing experience and learning onboard Nantes Saint Nazaire E. Leclerc. The spirit of the project is untouched and Douguet, seventh in 2012, hopes to get the best out of his 15 crew. Elodie Jane Mettraux is also coming back with Ville de Genève Carrefour Addictions. The Swiss won the amateur ranking last year and they are aiming for the overall ranking this time.
Last year's winner TPM Coych has changed entirely, with the project now managed by the youngsters of the club. French Sailing Team Laser athlete Jean-Baptiste Bernaz will lead with two other helmsmen, Mathieu Frei (French Sailing Team, 49er) and Cédric Boeri (COYCH). Alexis Littoz and Pierre Brasseur will bring navigation experience to the offshore legs.
On the amateur side, Team 85 is made up of youngsters from Vendée. Skipper Pierre Casaux took part in the Tour several times with Mady Fobert’s Belgium team (a feature of the race since 1993).
Normandy, another region close to the Tour de France à la Voile, will also have an entry at the start in Dunkirk. 23-year-old Baptiste Choquenet will once again lead this youth project.
Last year Mathieu Mourès led a Martinique team and he returns this year to sail under his island’s colors and… the Belgian colors too, joining forces with Mady Fobert on a boat named Martinique BE Brussels.
Finally, two foreign teams are entering the amateur competition. The faithful Swiss team, Bienne Voile, is back once again. Sönke Brunhs and Christiane Dittmers’ German team, Iskareen, has been training in Kiel and will begin the season at Normandy Sailing Week.
The message of Yann Le Moënner, CEO of A.S.O: 'We took over the Tour de France à la Voile at the last minute last year. This time around, with the teams of Baptiste Kern (event director) and Jean-Baptiste Durier (assistant director), we led three key projects to breath a new energy into shore activities. We worked a lot on making the race village stronger and will also offer animations on the beaches. We will also launch a small advertising convoy to be closer from the public. We are proud and happy to a high-quality fleet with Franck Cammas and Thomas Coville. They will give a hard time to Daniel Souben and the big names of the Tour de France à la Voile. The crisis is affecting everyone and I won’t lie, we hoped for even more boats. Some prestigious sailors are still fighting to be on the start line in Dunkirk. We hope for it to happen, even though, to second what everyone has been saying here, we are satisfied with the quality of the fleet as such. The Tour de France à la Voile is a major event for us. It’s our fifth sport sphere. We are investing all our energy to make the most beautiful party possible in July. See you in Dunkirk in a month.'
The message of Thomas Coville, skipper of Sodebo: 'While I am a solo sailor, I have never stopped crew racing. These two ways of navigating really help to develop my skills on the water. With Sodebo, we are happy to participate in the Tour de France à la Voile. This team adventure will allow us to compete with top level crews. Our team gathers sailors from different background: Volvo Ocean Race winners, America’s Cup experts and sailors who participated in the Olympic Games and the World Match Racing Tour. The team Sodebo has a total of 26 victories on the Tour de France à la Voile! With the quality of the crew gathered here, our goal clearly is to compete with the leaders.'
The message of Franck Cammas, skipper of Groupama 34: 'The Tour de France is our main objective of the season in M34. The three races we entered before the Tour’s start allowed us to get ready in the best possible conditions against top-level competitors. Nothing beats racing to train in real conditions. We were late compared to some of our competitors, especially Courrier Dunkerque – we are rookies. But our shared training sessions helped us to improve. Our team is mixing Groupama sailing team veterans, with whom we won the Volvo Ocean Race, and young sailors as efficient as they are enthusiastic. It’s a real pleasure. I’ve done the Tour several years ago, but only as a one-shot thing. To sail it all is a real challenge. With its inshore and offshore legs, it reminds us of the Volvo. We will have to be very consistent and capable of improving from the start in Dunkirk and the finish in Marseille. In any case I’m excepting a very tight race because the teams are great.'
The message of Daniel Souben, skipper of Courrier Dunkerque 3: 'We are delighted to race against competitors such as Cammas or Coville. They are spoiling us with a true sport challenge. It’s a great opportunity for us to have international names on the Tour. That being said, we are obviously seeking the victory! Courrier Dunkerque 3’s core team has been the same for the past seven years and it’s paying off. We started well the beginning of the season. Cammas and Coville are pulling us up. I’m extremely motivated about this season!'