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Four-time world champions Billy Besson, Marie Riou to lead France SailGP Team

by SailGP 23 Oct 2018 03:25 PDT
France SailGP Team (l-r) Matthieu Vandame, Marie Riou, Olivier Herledant, Billy Besson, Devan Le Bihan © SailGP

Four-time world champion and 2016 Olympian Billy Besson was today announced as the helmsman for the France SailGP Team. Part of a new global racing league setting sail in February 2019, the French team also features Marie Riou, SailGP's first female onboard crew member. The full team was revealed on Marseille Harbor, which will host the final event of the inaugural season (September 20-22, 2019).

The SailGP event in Marseille will serve as the league championship. It will include a third day of racing, highlighted by the thrilling, season-ending winner-takes-all US$1 million match race between the season's top two teams.

The French team includes a pair of Olympians in Besson and Riou – who have together captured four world titles and are campaigning for a berth at Tokyo 2020 – in addition to three America's Cup veterans and one of the country's most talented young sailors. They will be racing against teams from Australia, China, France, Great Britain, Japan and the United States on identical wingsailed F50s – the fastest catamarans in the world, capable of exceeding 50 knots (60mph/100kph).

"The French team will surely be a strong contender in SailGP's groundbreaking first season and beyond," said SailGP CEO Russell Coutts. "Billy and Marie have already accomplished an incredible amount, and now have the backing of three talented sailors who raced on the AC50. It's going to be an exciting first season, with the pinnacle moment taking place here in Marseille, where the mistral wind is likely to challenge some of the world's best sailors as they seek to win a million dollars."

The five members of the France SailGP Team are: Besson, 37, of Tahiti (helmsman); Matthieu Vandame, 36, of Vannes (wing trimmer); Riou, 37, of Plougastel-Daoulas (flight controller); Devan Le Bihan, 35, of Hennebont (grinder); and Olivier Herledant, 38, of Concarneau (grinder). In addition, Timothé Lapauw, 22, of Nice, will serve as the reserve grinder.

"This is an exceptional and thrilling opportunity for all of us, and I am incredibly proud to be part of both this team and this league," said Besson. "Though I've never sailed on this type of boat and will face a learning curve, I will be able to rely on my crew, which has vast experience on this craft. It's a fantastic opportunity for French sailing as a whole to have an event here in France. In Marseille, the race zone and the infrastructure are exceptional, and the public will be able to watch the action from a variety of fantastic locations."

"I am very proud to be part of the French team, especially with Billy as the skipper – he is extremely talented and I trust him completely," said Riou. "I am also deeply honored to be the first woman aboard the F50, and hope there will be others to follow as this inclusive league continues to build. First and foremost, I am a competitor and a sailor, and I very much look forward to having the opportunity to post some stellar performances for this team and our country."

Spearheaded by Larry Ellison and Coutts, SailGP has set out to redefine sailing and will bring intensely competitive, inshore racing to fans in Sydney; San Francisco; New York; Cowes, U.K.; and Marseille.

Sanctioned by World Sailing, SailGP racing in Marseille will take place in the Rade Nord, in front of the seawall outside the famous Old Port of Marseille and the Grand Port Maritime de Marseille, with anticipated large on-water and seawall spectator crowds. The event will take place from Friday to Sunday, with daily racing from 2-4 p.m.

Follow the France SailGP Team on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @SailGPFRA, and SailGP @SailGP.

About SailGP

SailGP is sailing redefined. Established in 2018 and headquartered in London and San Francisco, SailGP is an annual, global sports league featuring bold, cutting-edge technology and awe-inspiring athleticism. The fan-centric, inshore racing takes place in some of the most iconic harbors around the globe and culminates with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race. Rival national teams from Australia, China, France, Great Britain, Japan and the United States battle it out in identical supercharged F50 catamarans, engineered for intense racing at electrifying speeds exceeding 50 knots (nearly 60 mph/100 kph). Visit for more information.

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