A lots happened between Cape Corsica and Nice. Situations completely turned on their head, accelerations, pitstops mid-flight, surges of adrenalin and sessions down in the dumps. Here's an overview of what went on over the past couple of days.
- On Saturday Franck Cammas had to throw in the towel after discovering a crack in the crossbeam off Malta. This left the leadership place open for Pascal Bidégorry, who had a hundred mile advantage over Michel Desjoyeaux and Frédéric Le Peutrec, neck and neck at the time.
- By Sunday Banque Populaire had lost ground and had a mere 50 mile lead over Géant who had decided to stick close to Sicily. Gitana 11 opted to head for Tunisia but at the same distance from the finish, Frédéric Le Peutrec had gone of in search of new wind which was supposed to come in from the west. First to latch onto this wind, he had actually moved into second position by the evening.
- Monday morning and Gitana was just 8 miles from the leader and had put a comfortable 70 miles between her stern and the three boats tailing her ! By Monday evening, leader Pascal Bidégorry was still within reach (20 miles) and the gap with rest of the fleet had slipped to 100 miles !
But everything changed overnight. The SE breeze kicked in abeam as a new puff of wind took Banque Populaire across the finishing line on Tuesday morning (7h 36' 17''). When Frédéric Le Peutrec passed Cape Corsica, he got caught in a wind hole marking the transition between the old wind which had been a true driving force for Pascal Bidégorry, and the new wind which propelled Michel Desjoyeaux, Armel Le Cléac'h and Thierry Duprey du Vorsent forwards. Four trimarans which found themselves together after a race distance of almost 2 500 miles. When they saw Gitana 11 up ahead - going nowhere fast – all they had to do was to sail round the calm zone and overtake her, just sixty miles from the finish. Géant leapt ahead crossing the line six and a half hours after Banque Populaire, winner of the first edition of the IB Group Challenge. But the battle for third between Gitana 11 and Foncia was not over, in spite of the one mile lead held by Armel Le Cléac'h. A spot of wind kicked in and speeds of up to 25 knots were attained with flying gennakers. Both boats entered Nice's Baie des Anges side by side ! Frédéric Le Peutrec gradually made up the distance lacking, passing leeward of Foncia beating her to 3rd by 20 seconds – an amazing finish after a race nine days long ! A differential of 0.0028 %...
The crew is washed out by this eventful final and a little disappointed too but Frédéric Le Peutrec knows how to overcome it all.
« A mixture of frustration and satisfaction. Satisfaction as we managed to make it to third by the skin of our teeth, fighting like mad dogs in a 25-30 knot wind to snatch back the mile Foncia had taken ! Flat out with the gennaker up. Not the sort of sailing we can do in Grand Prix contexts. We let out hair down after 8 days at sea. An exceptional finish spurred on by a surge of adrenalin.
Cape Corsica was dreadful for us. On the approach we could see that the wind was going to change from the south and that those behind were starting to close in. As we were slightly offset compared to Banque Populaire, she managed to break away at Cape Corsica. A wind hole separated us from her, typical Mediterranean conditions. We were stuck there for a while until the wind came back astern, bringing three boats with it ! They managed to sail round us which is how Géant made it across the line one hour ahead.
But this was a superb race. Lots of chopping and changing. Nerve-wrecking racing and tiring physically. Ever since the start, this felt like a Grand Prix. From start to finish, from the prologue of Groix to the Finish in Nice ! At times there was some unbelievably close one-to-one racing, particularly with Géant. We were within sight of each other for half a day with lots of canvas up and the crew hiked out. Exciting stuff to watch but unbearable experience. Eventful but frustrating never the less as in the windless zone there was nothing to be done except sit by and watch the race happen around us. I went through a similar situation in the Québec-Saint Malo 2000 with Marc Guillemot. What had been a 600 miles lead just whittled away into nothing ! Each boat found herself in the lead or offset behind at one moment or other. A real accordion on two occasions – once when we were in the lead at Gibraltar, and a second time slightly behind in the Gulf of Tunis, once again in the front seat close to Sardinia and shaken off after Corsica !
We are pleased with the solo option west after the strait of Sicily where we came within reach of the lead. The Mediterranean has really lived up to its reputation !
The crew is well and truly out of it. It's quite a boxing match. Eight days at sea to finish in dead calm only to cross the line in a 30 knot breeze with the gennaker up ! Altogether unreasonable. The boat is in perfect condition - excellent preparation, a reliable boat, no gear failure or damage. The lifting rudder came up at the right moment when we struck something. Brilliant !
All in all we're really chuffed as fourth would've been terrible. Third is not bad at all »
Final scoreboard - IB Group Challenge, Tuesday 17th May 16h00 (French time) :
1- Banque Populaire (Pascal Bidégorry) finished on Tuesday 17th May at 7h 36' 17'', race time : 8 days 16 hours 36 minutes and 17 seconds
2- Géant (Michel Desjoyeaux) finished on Tuesday 17th May at 13h 55' 16'', race time : 8 days 22 hours 55 minutes 16 seconds (+6h 18' 09'')
3- Gitana 11 (Frédéric Le Peutrec) finished on Tuesday 17th May at 14h 40' 55'', race time : 8 days 23 hours 40 minutes 55 seconds (+ 7h 04' 38'')
4- Foncia (Armel Le Cléac'h) finished on Tuesday 17th May at 14h 41' 15'', race time : 8 days 23 hours 41 minutes and 15 seconds (+ 7h 04' 58'')
5- Gitana X (Thierry Duprey du Vorsent), finished on Tuesday 17th May at 16h 35' 42'', race time : 9 days 1h 35 minutes and 42 seconds
Retired : Groupama-2 (Franck Cammas)