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Fifth placed Tom Dolan in the hunt for overall La Solitaire du Figaro honours

by Tom Dolan Racing 3 Sep 2022 15:28 PDT 4 September 2022
Fifth placed Tom Dolan in the hunt for overall La Solitaire du Figaro honours © Alexis Courcoux

Ireland's leading solo offshore racer Tom Dolan, skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan heads into Sunday's final stage of La Solitaire du Figaro in a formidable fifth place, full of confidence and ready to give it all as he seeks to better the fifth place finish he scored in 2020. He is one hour and one minute behind the race leader France's Guillaume Pirouelle.

The 640 miles course which was confirmed today takes the 32 strong fleet south from the start line off Royan downwind along the coast to a bouy at Arcachon before heading offshore in light winds to the southernmost turning mark at Farallones, about 80 miles east of La Coruna on the north coast of Spain. From there it is looking like a very fast, bumpy downwind ride in 30-35kts to the last finish line of this 53rd edition, at Saint Nazaire, the Loire estuary town where the Irish sailor last year completed his best ever stage finish, third on the last leg.

How do you feel Tom, it has been a brutally tough race over these first two intense legs which have been 'always on'?

I feel good. Yesterday I was totally done in. I was thinking 'I cannot ever remember being this tired' but today I am OK, really I am. I will have run now and I will be brand new. The shorter legs before were not so hard, finishing on the Wednesday night.

You are in fifth with a good chance of bettering that does that bring more pressure on to you?

There is much less pressure now. I am in the zone. Here I have been hibernating and then I just get back on the boat and into it. The build up is stress, a week of faffing around, interviews and so on and then worrying about performing on the first leg. Once you are on the boat it is easy.

I have already had a good Solitaire. At the start it is 'what if this turns out to be a shit one?' Now I can say I have led both legs and have been up the front on both legs and I have been fast and largely done the right things.

What has made the difference so far, it seems the margins between good and not so good are tiny?

I feel I have good all round speed this time and that makes all the difference. I got my sails late last time and didn't have the speed I wanted. The boat speed makes the difference because you are not losing brain power on that, you are not rolling around in your bed thinking 'shit, why am I so slow?' so I am happy all round with my boat speed. Every year I feel like I have had a hole somewhere and have been thinking 'I am not good....'. And then the weather is good. I love working with Marcel van Trieste. I am a weather geek anyway. He is a revelation to be honest. He is really into the whole general situation and where the highs and the lows are and I like that because you then have a picture in your head of how things are evolving. I go over it, and over it, and over it again, like revising for an exam, you have it all in your head and you are not pulling out notes. You have it impregnated into your brain. You go out knowing what is happening and why the wind is here and there. I did three quarters of the last race course without looking at his notes once.

In the Channel you were one of the fastest, making up ten places?

That was fun and it was pure boatspeed. In this game it is rare to pass people with pure boat speed. That felt nice. That was spinnaker choice. I have a new spinnaker I worked on last year with Gildas (Mahé) for the Transat and it is a bit different. I have different way of trimming which is top secret.

Tell us about the course for the third stage?

The course across the Bay of Biscay looks complicated but a fast run back. It will be fairly light and fluky to Arcachon, very complicated, and light and fluky to the mark off Spain and then downwind in 25kts living on energy bars with one gybe. It will be big kite til it explodes then the small one, back in the SW'ly. I think it will be important to be low risk across Biscay, there are big differences in the routing and so potentially big differences arriving at Farallones, you want to be in the right pack at that mark and then after that it is downwind boat speed which I am not to bad at all. Whoever doesn't broach or break things will do best.

And are you thinking now you can win the stage or even overall?

Yes. On the last one I did not realise I was in the lead until I heard on the safety briefing and then you start imagining winning, you have in it in your head arriving and champagne and all that, so for sure I have the taste for it, I have everything in place, these other guys are beatable, Tom and Guillaume and so on. At the start you think of all the boats as dangerous now I know I can beat them. I need to keep my eye in the game.

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