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A strong entry from outside of France for 50th anniversary Solitaire URGO Le Figaro

by François Quiviger 20 May 2019 08:04 PDT 27 May - 30 June 2019
Mettraux Justine, Gahinet Gwénolé, Teamwork © Christophe Breschi

The Solitaire URGO Le Figaro has always been a predominantly French affair which has shaped the careers of many of France's leading ocean racers. The last time a non-French sailor claimed a leg victory in The Solitaire du Figaro was in 1998, when Ireland's Damian Foxall won the fourth and final stage of that year's race.

This year, with the introduction of the new foil assisted Figaro Bénéteau 3 as the boat of choice, the playing field has been levelled for the skippers who are readying themselves for 2,130 nautical miles of racing across four legs between Nante (France), Kinsale (Ireland), Roscoff and Dieppe.

Thanks to a very carefully staged allocation process, all of them have had similar time to get to know their new boats, with training the top priority for everyone as they work towards the pinnacle event of the Figaro season, The Solitaire URGO Le Figaro.

Could this be a chance for international talent to shine at what is recognised as the unofficial world championship of solo offshore racing? Among the 49 skippers taking the start in Nante for this 50th anniversary edition are seven non-French sailors, with entrants from Italy, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland.

The most experienced Figaro sailor amongst them is the UK's Alan Roberts who is back for his fifth Solitaire racing SeaCat Service. In 2015, the then 24-year old Roberts secured the best ever British result in the Solitaire in 40 years when he finished in ninth place overall. He is widely recognised by the French experts as possessing all the skills and talent to better this position.

"This will be a tough year to get a good result, I've never seen such a good line up of sailors combined with a tricky course with many opportunities to get stuck at tidal gates or caught out by local knowledge," explained Roberts who earlier this month finished 13th overall in the first single-handed event in the Figaro Bénéteau 3, the Solo Maître Coq.

"I believe a top 20 result will be a good result in this fleet and a top 10 an awesome one. A leg podium would be the dream and I know I am more than capable of it."

Fellow Brit Will Harris, racing HIVE Energy, who hails from Weybridge in Surrey, is also no stranger to the Solitaire. In 2016, the 24-year old claimed the coveted 'Rookie' title awarded to the best placed skipper racing their first ever Solitaire. In 2019, he makes a welcome return to the fleet with solid sponsorship support, a goal he has been working towards for a long time.

"For me, the is no better circuit to develop my offshore racing skills. I knew I had to return to do the race and it has taken several years to achieve this goal. It's not an easy challenge to do this race as a foreign sailor, you have to commit all of your time and energies to the racing and development of your campaign," explained Harris.

Speaking about the new Figaro 3, Harris continued: "From the first moment I sailed the boat back in January it was obvious that the Figaro 3 had brought a new level of excitement to the class. It is a fast boat that really rewards the more effort you put in trying to make it go faster. It's also much more physical, manoeuvres and changing sails are constantly required to have a chance of keeping up with the rest of the fleet."

There is one Swiss national in this years' Solitaire URGO Le Figrao in the experienced Justine Mettraux (Teamwork) whose offshore credentials are rock solid. The 32-year old is one of five female skippers who will compete, and when asked what her ambitions for the race are, Mettraux explained: "A top 10 finish. Given the level of competition, that would be a great success."

If her form from the recent Solo Maître Coq is anything to go by when she finished ninth overall, a top-ten finish is more than achievable for the skipper who finished 11th last year the same year that she was part of the Volvo Ocean Race winning Dongfeng Race Team.

Also with one entrant is New Zealand in experienced offshore racer Conrad Colman. Racing Ethical Power, Colman is the first sailor to have completed the Vendée Globe round the world race without a reliance on fossil fuels. He also won the double-handed Global Ocean Race in the Class40 before completing the Barcelona World Race. But his learning curve in the Figaro has been steep, having finished 43rd in the Solo Maître Coq.

The Irish contingent in the race is also strong, with Joan Mulloy on Believe in Grace-Businesspost.IE and Tom Dolan on Smurfit Kappa both taking the start. For both, who will no doubt relish the opportunity of a home-stopover in Kinsale, their focus is now firmly on taking forward valuable lessons learnt from the Solo Maître Coq to next month's Solitaire URGO Le Figaro.

"The positives to take away from this is that I am definitely fast. I just need to now make sure I am going fast in the right direction," explained Dolan. "I now need to prepare the boat as well as possible and also to do as much physical preparation as I can as it is quite a bit of work on board."

Speaking about the race's return to Ireland, Dolan continued: "I think it's great that the race is coming to Ireland, my mother will get to see the boat for the first time and if the weather is nice there is no better place to have a party in the world. My goal is to be the first boat into Kinsale!"

And representing Italy is first-timer Alberto Bona, an experienced Mini class sailor who has made the leap to the Figaro, and who is aiming to finish amongst the top-ranked Rookies (or Bizuths) in the race.

So there are certainly some foreign raiders to watch out for in this Solitaire URGO Le Figaro and, who knows, could a non-French sailor break the French strong-hold of the fleet? The race starts 2nd June, visit the official website for the latest updates.

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