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New York–Vendée Race - Thomson finishes on Vendée podium again

by Marion Cardon on 9 Jun 2016
Hugo Boss - 2016 New York–Vendée Transatlantic Race Thierry Martinez
2016 New York–Vendée Transatlantic Race - British skipper Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss is making a habit of storming the podium in Les Sables d’Olonne, the capital of French offshore sailing. Thomson finished third in the inaugural New York – Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) Race presented by Currency House and SpaceCode today at 18:43:31 (French time) after a tense, slow-motion three-horse race across a breathless Bay of Biscay drawn out over the last three days. Just over three years ago he finished third here in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe.

“This is a fantastic achievement; not only for me but for the entire team,” Thomson said. “Just weeks ago the boat was in the shed, undergoing major repairs. Today we crossed the finish line in third place, in what was an incredibly challenging race. This result has put us in a fantastic position ahead of the Vendée Globe. We are incredibly confident that we have built a racing yacht which is capable of winning the race and its performance over the past 10 days has only reinforced that.”

Thomson covered the course in nine days twenty-one hours three minutes and thirty-one seconds. He finished four hours five minutes and forty-one seconds behind the winner, Jérémie Beyou, (Maître CoQ) and one hour thirty-six minutes and forty-four seconds behind second-placed Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild). Thomson sailed 3,453 miles at an average speed of 14.57 knots.

Whilst he was engaged in what he dubbed the “driftathlon” over the last three days he might have been reflecting that not far away, last November, he had to be airlifted to safety when his new boat capsized 82 miles off the north coast of Spain during the Transat Jacques Vabre. He immediately went back to salvage it, began rebuilding and the fruits of his labour are clear.

Thomson wanted a test before the start of his fourth Vendée Globe in November and he definitely got that.

“Alex has sailed really well. He’s the fastest of us, the one who can register the most monstrous speeds,” Jérémie Beyou said. “That’s is why he is a reference-point in the IMOCA. He is radical in his choices, sometimes a little too much, but he dares to take risks in his routing. Here, he went a little too far north, which deprived him of the opportunity to come back down, but his choice might well have paid off. And every race, you realise that he is still making further progress. I was talking a bit with my team: Alex is in the process of reinventing sailing in an IMOCA. It may be necessary to sail like him, to right on course and keeping pace with Alex Thomson to win the Vendée Globe.”

Josse had another point of view though: “Going at a 25knot average on a foiling boat, is not the thing to do. Alex needed to test the potential of his boat compared to the others. It was a first confrontation between the fleet. He can be reassured, he did a great job. For me, I chose to adopt a pace closer to what we have to do on the Vendée Globe. The aim is to endure and finish.”

Leaving Manhattan’s spectacular skyline behind on Sunday, May 29, Thomson needed his share of luck as he, Beyou and Josse avoided the damage at the start which saw five boats - Pieter Heerema (No Way Back), Yann Eliès (Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir), Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel – Virbac), Morgan Lagravière (Safran) and Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) - head back to port for repairs on Monday, May 30. That narrowed the odds for Thomson because the last four of those were potential winners, with the last three on new generation foiling boats.

Thomson set the pace in a thrilling downwind opening phase to the race in a 20-25 westerly wind. He put it down to just having a fast boat, which is a bit lighter and narrower than the other new generation foilers.

But he always had company and the leading trio had already emerged from the reduced fleet by Wednesday, June 1 as they all posted big 24-hour runs. Thomson’s 487 miles at an average speed of 20.3 knots remains the best run of the race.

All three gybed north on Wednesday leaving the rest behind. Thomson continued north on Thursday skirting the ice exclusion zone and opening a lead over Beyou that was 102 miles at one point. With a cold front descending from the north and bringing 35-40 knot winds, Beyou and Josse were angling more directly to Les Sables d’Olonnes while Thomson was dicing with getting caught in storm forces winds.

In a finish of twists and turns, Thomson may look back on the 80 miles he lost after his crash tack at 28 knots in 40 knots of wind overnight last Thursday, June 2. It cost him the lead and possibly victory. But it also showed he and Hugo Boss are in robust shape.

Thomson said that incident forced him further north and to sail the boat more conservatively in the teeth of a low-pressure system that was gusting to 50 knots last Saturday. At one point he was sailing with just a reefed mainsail. “The last thing our team needs right now is a major repair project,” he said.

But Thomson, who admitted he had not been in a close race in the Bay of Biscay in such light winds before, would have loved some of that earlier wind at the end against Beyou, one of the masters of the light and close-quarter combat.

The trio had managed around 3,000 miles at an average speed of 16 knots in a week by the end of Sunday, June 5, as they approached the Bay of Biscay. The last 450-odd miles took nearly three days, with average speeds over 24 hours plunging down to five knots. Thomson will hope that come the Vendée Globe he will have burnt off the competition by then.

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