The 41st edition of Le Tour Voile starts in Dunkirk, Friday heralding the opening salvo on what is being described as the most intense edition yet.
When once the famous multi stage race around the French coast was a cumulative test of offshore skill and stamina, historically starting from the east of ‘Le Manche’ travelling down the French Atlantic coast all the way to the east of the Mediterranean, now the 28 Diam 24 trimaran teams contest a 17 day inshore marathon of multiple coastal and round the buoys heats. This year it visits seven different towns, Dunkirk, Dieppe, Barneville-Carteret, Baden Golfe de Morbihan, Gruissan, Hyères and finishing in Nice on 22nd July.
With fifteen racing days comprising a no-discards mix of short, sharp stadium races and ‘raid’ style coastals of up to 40nms, stamina is tested not only on the water but in dealing with the regular derigging, travel and re-rigging between successive stages. It is described as a marathon raced at sprint pace.
Of the 28 teams which are competing this year, eight are from outside if France. There are three Swiss teams including the Cheminées Poujoulat challengers of Jules Verne record holder and IMOCA racer Bernard Stamm as well as two CER Ville De Genève crews which include two members of the remarkable Swiss Mettraux dynasty, Nelson Mettraux on CER Ville de Genève 1and Laurane on CER Ville de Genéve 2.
Oman Sail field two teams – #sailingarabia powered by Oman Sail, skippered by Thierry Douillard and double GBR Olympian Stevie Morrison and a young team skippered by Pierre le Clainche, Team Oman Sail. Belgium are represented again by BE.Brussels-Caraibois and there are two pan European teams, Batistyl-Habitat of Cyrille Legloahec and Pink Lady – Pays de L’Or – Hérault a young team based in the south of France co-skippered by Pieter Tack (BEL) and Romain Simonnot (FRA), an initiative representing the Pays de L’Or and Hérault regions and the Pink Lady fruit growers organisation which sells to a wide European market.
Past 49er World Champion Morrison says the Oman Sail team he is helm and co-skipper for is gunning for a podium finish overall. Having just missed out last year Morrison and the Oman Sail crew are looking to manage themselves better in the second third of the tour, seeking to avoid the dip in form that cost them from the Vendée coast southwards.
“We have worked on our speed and I think we are good now. Since February when we had completely new sails we have had to work very hard to get our speed back so maybe we might be a little race rusty but one thing about the tour is you get a lot of racing, so that should not last long and we hope to get off to a great start. We have done the French season, we did the Tour of Arabia where were split the team into two, we have had not shortage of time on the water. We have the same team as last year, we are definitely better but nobody stands still in this class, everyone gets better. From first to eighth is much tighter than before in the fleet and that is good for us as I think consistency is our strength over a two week. If you can chip away with thirds and fourths then you will do well. Last time we got tired. And now I think we are much more self aware and ready to watch that and act accordingly. It is two weeks this time and not three weeks.”
Football fan Morrison has concerns about team unity if England and France were to meet in the World Cup Final on July 15th when the Tour Voile reaches Baden-Golfe du Morbihan.
“I have my England shirt with me and some of our French crew are threatening to by French shirts if they get that far!” laughs Morrison who is partnered by co-skipper French America’s Cup racer Thierry Douillard and match racer Mathieu Richard.
Leading contenders for the overall title will include the 2016 winners Lorina Limonade Golfe du Morbihan skippered by Quentin Delapierre with a crew including 470 Olympic challenger Kevin Peponnet and Figarist Corentin Horeau and Beijaflore skippered by Valentin Bellet sailing with 470 youth world champions Guillaume Pirouelle and Valentin Sipan.
The Tour starts in Dunkirk for the 33rd time. There is no coastal race here, instead three back to back days of stadium racing. Cheminées Poujoulat’s Stamm commented.
“We’re going to have to deal with the thermal breeze and as usual up here in the North of France with the currents. Last year, it was difficult getting into the swing of things and after that we had to race hard to catch up. This time, we hope to get going immediately and not lose any points from the outset. To do that, we need to remain calm, have some good qualifying sessions and take advantage of the final, if we get there. In other words, we have to do what we are normally able to do, but we aren’t underestimating anyone either.”
The young European team on Pink Lady- Pays de l’Or – Hérault was put together following a widespread talent search. Training out of La Grande Motte with the Centre Entrainment Mediterranée the crew which are competing on their first Tour Voile are Lucas Chatonnier, 22 (FRA), Pieter Tack, 24s (BEL), Johann Kohlhoff 21 ans, (GER), Jacopo Rizzi 20 (ITA), and Romain Simonnot 22 (FRA). Kohlhoff from Kiel in Germany was a top Laser sailor before competing in the Youth America’s Cup while Rizzi, from Venice was born in Texas. His father is a gondolier and the young former Laser racer Jacopo expects to qualify as a gondolier this year.
Valentin Bellet (FRA), skipper of Beijaflore: “We are all looking forward to getting right into the event. Last year we had a good race overall but not a good start to Dunkirk. This year we are putting everything in place so that the entire crew is all set and ready for the first stage. To hope to win the Tour, it will be necessary to be very regular and make less mistakes than others! ”
Kevin Peponnet (FRA), tactician on Lorina Limonade – Golfe du Morbihan:
“We are all poised and ready all just waiting for one thing. We are full of and raring to go. It will all go so fast this year it will be a lot about how we handle things on the land. Key is to qualify for all the finals in the Stade Nautics Dunkirk, that would be a good start for us.”