Lionel Lemonchois was keen to share the credit for this victory with his boat's owner, Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, his two routers, Sylvain Mondon (Météo France) and Yann Guichard, along with the entire Gitana Team, “without whom it would not have been possible.”
Lionel Lemonchois was picked out from an elite group of competitors who have distinguished themselves throughout the season in various formats: Antoine Albeau (Funboarder, Formula 42 world champion), Franck Cammas and his crew (1st in the 60' Multi Cup), Sydney Gavignet (Volvo Ocean Race), Sébastien Josse (Volvo Ocean Race), Roland Jourdain (1st 60' monohull – Route du Rhum / La Banque Postale 2006), Bruno Peyron and his crew (Atlantic crossing record) and Nicolas Troussel (1st in the Solitaire Afflelou-Le Figaro ).
A jury made up of 13 personalities and chaired by Georges Pernoud deliberated long and hard before deciding on the recipient of this hotly contested title. For the first year, web surfers were also able to have their say, with their combined votes forming the 14th member of the jury. Together, they decided that 2006 would be the ‘year of the Lion'!
The Chairman of the French Sailing Federation, Jean-Pierre Champion, also took advantage of this evening to hail the contribution of the Rothschild family to the heritage of French sailing by paying tribute to Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, who was present in the hall. “On Lac Leman in 1876, a record was beaten by the first Gitana at the speed of roughly 19 knots: today, 130 years later, Lionel Lemonchois has made the Atlantic crossing at approximately the same speed, but this time as an average! On this Route du Rhum, the Orma multihulls have again proved that they are the Kings of the Atlantic and I would like to thank Baron Benjamin de Rothschild for his commitment to this class of boat, which he has supported since 2000 with the Gitana Team.”
Baron Benjamin de Rothschild
“I am profoundly happy for Lionel that 2006 is ending with unanimous recognition of his talent as well as his incredible performance. It's also a fine reward for what we've gradually been building with the entire Gitana Team.”
Lionel Lemonchois was born on 2 February 1960 in Bayeux. These days, he lives in Crac'h (56).
Lionel is a sailor in a million who boasts incredible experience on almost every type of vessel imaginable. From the mini-transat to the maxi-catamaran, his is an honours list to rival the all-time greats! Lionel has long been a highly sought after and respected crewman of renowned talent. But until this month of November 2006, he was content to stay in the shadows, one of those familiar faces in sailing circles that many would have struggled to put a name to. And it was with the same humility that has characterised this eclectic career path that Lionel Lemonchois accepted his coronation for this year of 2006, which at last sees him acknowledged as one of the great sailors of recent decades.
“It's like Christmas everyday at the moment! But I have to say again that, if it wasn't for the owner, I wouldn't even be here. He has shown faith in me and I am grateful to him for that. And I'd also like to thank the entire team managed by Loick Peyron and especially the pairing of Sylvain Mondon and Yann Guichard, who gave me the support I needed throughout the crossing! I am very happy to receive this honour, especially as the other candidates would also have been worthy winners. And it's also partly down to people such as Pascal Bidégorry, Franck Cammas and Bruno Peyron, to name but a few, that I am here today! I've learned so much sailing alongside them. It's a really nice feeling, even though I wasn't after any particular form of recognition. But I have to say that it's very nice… In fact, I think I could get used to it (laughs)!” the skipper concluded.
Gitana: the will to win
No other family can lay claim to such longevity in its passion for sailing. Just as much as the Art of Living, this family is driven by the desire to break new boundaries on the ocean.
Gitana: a Yachting Lady…
In 1876, the Baroness Adolphe de Rothschild beat the speed record on Lake Leman to become the fastest Yachting Lady in the world. On the first Gitana, she touched the 20.5-knot mark on the water, or 38 km/h. She repeated the feat with Gitana II in 1898, reaching the then unrivalled speed of 26.03 knots, or 48 km/h.
Baron Edmond de Rothschild and the monohulls
During the 1960s, Baron Edmond de Rothschild left a lasting mark on the history of monohulls, finishing amongst the honours in numerous Mediterranean races like La Giraglia, with his yawl Gitana IV. 1975 saw the launch of Gitana VI, a 65-foot aluminium sloop. Having traversed every ocean, this legendary vessel was withdrawn from competition in 1979 after numerous successes, most notably on the Fastnet. In 1980, with Gitana VII, an aluminium two-tonner designed by German Frers, Baron Edmond clinched the Two Ton Cup.
Baron Benjamin de Rothschild and the multihulls
Baron Benjamin de Rothschild inherited the sailing bug from his father and has kept up the family tradition with the new-generation Open 60-foot multihulls, enjoying success with Gitana IX in 1999, then Gitana X in 2002 and lastly Gitana 11 in 2004, which finished second in the Transat Jacques Vabre in November 2005.
But 2006 has brought with it the coronation. Aboard Gitana 11, Lionel Lemonchois accomplished an incredible exploit by wining the Route du Rhum in a record time of 7 days 17 hours 19 minutes and 6 seconds. Courtesy of an average speed of 19.11 knots, he shattered the previous record set in 1998 by Laurent Bourgnon by four days.