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Quiroga takes solid advantage in to Stage 3 of the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro

by Andi Robertson 4 Sep 2021 11:40 PDT 1 September 2021

Stage 3 of the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro starts at midday Sunday and will take the 34 solo racers a marathon 624 nautical miles from Fécamp to the Bay of Morlaix. The route opens with a reach to a mark east of the Isle of Wight before climbing north at Land's End to cross the mouth of the Bristol Channel, passing Lundy island, to round a buoy at Saint Gowan - south of Milford Haven, Wales - then back past the Scilly Isles to the finish off the popular north Breton port.

With the prevailing winds still from the east this third stage of four does look like another speed stage, reaching and downwind running whilst fully observing the strong tides in the English Channel and then the Bristol Channel.

According to many of the top racers this could be another 'rich get richer' stage where the advantage of getting out of the lighter winds under the huge cliffs of Fecamp and the Alabaster Coast will increase on the 70 miles across the Channel to the South Pullar mark.

From the midday start the leaders should round this turn at South Pullar - five miles SW of Selsey Bill - at dusk. Then Monday is a long 200 miles downwind to Land's End passing the Longships Lighthouse. It is a 105 miles reach during Tuesday morning and afternoon to the Welsh mark which is the first time the Figaro fleet has turned here. The return reach under Code Zero or J2 headsail is open with no marks of the course other than the Scillies observing only the TSS zones.

General Classification leader Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Macif 2019) starts in a very strong position with a time advantage of one hour and 36 minutes over second placed Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) who in turn is just 13 seconds up on Tom Laperche (CMB Bretagne Performance). But there is then a gap of nearly one hour to the fourth placed veteran Gildas Mahe (Breizh Cola).

Quiroga, the 28 year old from Hyères who is on his sixth La Solitaire du Figaro starts with little pressure. He has already achieved one of his goals when he won Stage 2 and so ticked off that career target. He has good allround speed and twice underlined his free thinking philosophy and confidence, breaking from the peloton to increase extend his lead into Fécamp.

But as was made clear on the second stage from Lorient to Fecamp no skipper is immune to technical failures nor bad luck. Macaire, Stage 1 winner, suffered a double whammy when his navigation computer crashed during the wet, windy and bumpy upwind stage round the top of Brittany and then hooked a fish pot round his keel. From a 47 minutes 15 seconds lead 40 year old Macaire slumped to 14th on Stage 2, two hours and 24 minutes after Quiroga.

On the eve of leaving Fécamp Macaire said. "It is not over yet, far from it. I have done the same thing as before the first and the second legs. I have refocused, I am concentrated and we prepared the boat. I also spoke with my mental trainer to tackle the third stage in the best way possible by not focusing on the past but rather focusing on the future. We're only halfway there, the goal is to get it right until the end. The stopover here has been long enough here in Fécamp, we had three full days of rest, which allowed me to recover well because the first two stages were hard, physical, intense. We were upwind a lot and the boat is not very comfortable in these conditions, it is physically demanding, heeling, slamming wet a lot. Now I feel ready to start again and this rest will be useful for the whole end of the race. This is important because there are two big pieces left before the final arrival in Saint Nazaire and which will follow one another quite quickly. The end of the race will be intense."

Internationals, the best is yet to come?

The leading international skippers lie 17th, 18th and 19th on the General Classification and all three are looking for a really strong showing on this third stage, a top five to get their challenges back on track according to their pre-race hopes and expectations. Ireland's Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) is five hours and three minutes behind Quiroga. Roberts, remarkably, is just two seconds behind his Irish rival on accumulated time and Switzerland's Nils Palmieri (Teamwork) is another 44 minutes behind the Briton.

Dolan, fully rested and determined, commented, "The bottom line is I have made bad starts and have not been quick enough early in the race, and especially at night. now it is important to me to get a good result on these next legs. We are only half way through and I just need to work at it, back to basics, prepare the boat well, do the weather well. I know how to do this and this next leg is a change of weather regime and so I am putting these previous legs behind me and looking forwards. But in this class, in this race there are no hiding places."

Roberts, who was tenth last year and has a career best of ninth, said: "I treat each leg as an individual race. There is the overall series and you are just trying to not lose. But right now if you talk about winning (overall) it is not impossible but it's a big ask. I am about five hours behind but each leg is its own race. I am going out and taking each leg as its own race."

The skipper of Seacat Services walks the course: "I don't know how close we will be to the English coast. We will go round S Pullar and then you go south for the tides and then there is a shift to take you back north. We should be at that turn in English waters around sunset. I like the crossing of the channel, getting across is about getting the trajectory right with the tide. It is more of a reach on the Figaro 3 and there will be light winds off the coast here, getting out of that well will be important and if you can get clear early then there is a chance to extend. The story of this La Solitaire du Figaro seems to be 'rich get richer' courses. This leg will be a bit lighter, but no shut downs. We should get 12-15kts of wind to reach across the Channel then VMG downwind to Land's End with up to 20kts - big kite all the way - it could be light by Lundy but all straight line sailing. It is a 3 and a half day course, that leg is Code Zero then kite up to come back. Then Code Zero/J2 into Roscoff. There is a little low pressure hovering down off Portugal which might bring some rain and thunderstorms."

How to follow the start and the 3rd stage:

Direct Departure on Youtube

Online at 11:45 am: direct departure with commentary by Serge Herbin and a special guest, Nicolas Lunven (winner of the 2009 and 2017 editions). updated every 5 minutes in key areas of the course including the start, and then every 15 minutes. Possibility to choose the base maps (Navionics nautical chart, geographical map). Thanks to the partnership with Météo Consult, wind and current files, an important parameter for each of the stages of La Solitaire.

From the land in Fécamp

In the village (open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Sunday, September 5):

  • 9.45am: presentation of each skipper on the podium of the village of La Solitaire
  • 10:00 am: first pontoon departure until 10:33 am.
  • From 11:45 am: On the big screen, broadcast of the Direct Départ.

Viewpoints for the public:

  • On the lighthouse dike, the south dike, the beach promenade and Cap Fagnet.

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