On the eve of the Alpes Maritimes Trophy which, as with each prologue, will mark the start of this 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul', the competitors are undecided on how they will tackle this race. Though everyone wants a taste of the aroma of adventure and brotherhood which colours the event, you mustn’t forget that there is still the matter of what is perhaps the most demanding race of 2008.
'It’s strange. We’re all very happy to be here, telling ourselves that we’re going to discover new landscapes, and experience a shared adventure. However, at the same time, it’s the longest single-handed race of the year and it will be sailed in a sea which we know to be demanding…' Like a number of competitors in this grand Mediterranean transhumance, Armel Tripon, skipper of Gedimat is dubious. Must you rejoice at the spirit of conviviality in the Cap Istanbul or rather focus on the race itself? Jeanne Grégoire isn’t saying much either. The skipper of Banque Populaire admits to dreading this Mediterranean 'where you have to know how to anticipate, but also be highly responsive', whilst celebrating the organisation device which will involve the préparateurs and organisation team on the water. 'The sun, the discovery of new landscapes, it has a holiday feel about it, but you mustn’t forget the stakes involved.' For Jeanne, currently eighth in the French Single-handed Ocean-Racing Championship, it’s an opportunity to finish in the top ten for the second time in her career and perhaps snatch another place or two. If this were the case, Jeanne would achieve her best ranking in her Figaro Bénéteau career.
For the top trio in the provisional ranking of the French Single-handed Championship, Gildas Morvan, Fred Duthil and Erwan Tabarly, the stakes are marked by the stamp of proof. Gildas has a 15 point lead over second place; which is itself within harpoon’s reach of the third place, just 5 points behind. With the 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul' being granted a coefficient 4, anything is still possible. For others, it’s also about confirming one’s status: Nicolas Bérenger (Kone Elevators) and Thierry Chabagny (SUZUKI Automobiles) will be keen to prove that the victory they achieved together in 2007 had nothing to do with chance. Nicolas Troussel, author of an amazing double in the Solitaire du Figaro, even though he has practically no illusions about winning another French Championship title, would like to show that he’s lost none of his vista or his sense of anticipation.
It won’t only be the leaders who will be sailing with all guns blazing over the five stages which link Nice to Istanbul. Others may well be playing a part in their professional futures, such as Christopher Pratt and Romain Attanasio, the skippers of the two DCNS boats. It’s at the end of the season that the DCNS will return its verdict to decide who will succeed Marc Thiercelin aboard his sixty footer, on completion of the Vendée Globe 2008-2009. Christopher Pratt is awaiting the verdict with relative serenity: 'The sporting criteria are important but that’s not the only thing. It’s just as important to sail cleanly and not start wondering about the selection methods and the final outcome. I just want to be able to say that I’ve done my job.'
When you think about it, everyone has good reason to find some new sources of motivation. There are those who are keen to redress the balance after not doing as well as they’d have liked in the Solitaire du Figaro. Thomas Rouxel (Défi Santé Voile) and Gildas Mahé (Le Comptoir Immobilier) fully intend to show that their second and third positions in the French Championship from last year won’t be usurped. And yet everyone, from the confirmed professional to the enlightened amateur says the same thing: 'You have to know how to remain lucid and not let a situation get on top of you. You also have to remember to make the most of it…' We all know that the Mediterranean is a capricious sea. The only remedy to prevent you getting caught in the pitfalls of its witticisms: to know how to hold onto a fair amount of relativity and a zest of humour. If everyone adopts the same relaxed attitude, this 2008 edition of the 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul' should remain firmly anchored in the collective memory… Quotes from the pontoons in the 'European Capital of culture – Cap Istanbul Gildas Morvan, Cercle Vert:
'This promises to be a fine race. The stakes are high on a sporting level; we’re going to traverse some enchanting areas and over the first few days at least, the sun should shine on us. I’m going to try to remain careful and not tempt fate. Without getting too obsessed about surveying my direct opponents, it’s clear that I’m not going to going off on my own on a option which could cost me dearly in the general ranking.' Nicolas Bérenger, Kone Elevators:
'I’ve come here with greatly increased motivation. Former winner of the event, fifth in the French Championship and local to the stage in two ways: firstly because between Corsica and Sardinia it’s a bit like my garden, secondly because Nice is my partner’s headquarters. Suffice to say that I’m not setting off to play the tourist.' Jean-Paul Mouren, M@rseille Entreprises:
'For me, the mere fact that I’m taking the start is already a delight for me. In a certain way we’re the fragile ones but we’ve chosen this path. Maybe this is our real liberty…' Thomas Rouxel, Défi Mousquetaires:
'For me this race is important in more ways than one. After my blazing 2007 season, I’d really like to get some results which are a little closer to those I aspire to. To have a great Cap Istanbul wouldn’t be bad. My poor performances this year have been the result of small strategic errors. I know what I still have to work on. In fact, I really like the idea of a caravan which heads off to visit miniscule ports. The spirit is reminiscent of a long-distance rally on the water like when you go off to trial funboards with friends in the remote corners of the globe…'