In eight previous participations in the annual multi-stage solo offshore race Nicolas Lunven has won overall once, in 2009, but until last night the solo skipper from Vannes in Brittany had never won a leg. After a challenging 420 miles stage from Bordeaux during which a cold front brought huge, chaotic seas and gusts of over 50kts, Lunven won Stage 1 of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro into the Asturian port of Gijon when he crossed the finish line at one minute past midnight and 16 seconds (local time).
Third overall in 2016 when he returned to the race after a two year absence, Lunven also finished third overall in 2012 but until last night had never completed a stage win. In wining he finished 13 minutes and 23 seconds ahead of Adrien Hardy (AGIR Recouvrement) and 28 minutes and 14 seconds ahead of third placed Sébastien Simon.
Yann Elies (Quéguiner-Leucemie Espoir), one of the two most accomplished skippers in the 43 boat fleet that are both bidding for a record fourth overall title, finished fifth, with a deficit of 39 minutes and 40 seconds over race leader Lunven. After losing his headsail Jérémie Beyou (Charal) finished in 19th, 1 hr and 44mins minutes behind Lunven.
Top rookie on this first stage of the 2017 edition was Julien Pulvé (Team Vendée Formation) who finished in a creditable eighth place, one hour and three minutes after stage winner Lunven. Swiss skipper Justine Mettreaux (Teamwork) finished 12th as top female. Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) is the top British finisher in 22nd place, disappointed at making a series of small errors managing himself at the key stage of the race. He arrived in Gijon 2 hours and 20 minutes after the stage winner.
Lunven, who marked his form by winning the early season Solo Maitre Coq race, and second placed Adrien Hardy made a gain on race leader Eliès when they both tacked further out to the west at the most northern turn, Plateau Rochebonne to the south west of Les Sables d’Olonne. There, they both passed the three times winner by getting first to the favourable change in wind direction. Lunven later admitted that he was disappointed in his boat speed early on the long leg SW to the finish line and worked hard to improve, so getting past Hardy.
Lunven finally adds his own stage win to the family history books. His father Bruno raced in the colours of Concorde in 1975, an early affiliate of Generali, and won stages in 1974 and 1977, finishing third overall in 1975.
After a slow start Sunday afternoon out of the Gironde estuary the cold front at Rochebonne during a tempestuous Monday night brought gusts of over 50kts, sustained average windspeeds of 40kts but with huge, chaotic post frontal seas. These harsh conditions saw damage to top seeds like Erwan Tabarly (Armor Lux) and Anthony Marchand (Ovimpex Secours Populaire) having to pull into Les Sables d’Olonne.
Exhausted but ecstatic at the first leg win of his career, Lunven smiled:
“ I am happy, very, very happy with my first stage win on this La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, having won the event but never a leg. It would have been better if there had been a few knots less wind last night! The seas were chaotic and even dangerous at times with such big gusts. When I had Adrien Hardy in front of me I really had to push but credit to him he sailed a great race. When the breeze dropped away a bit I was really angry with my boat speed so I pushed and pushed and got past him.”
In finishing fourth, just ahead of Eliès, Charlie Dalin (Skipper MACIF 2015) completed a remarkable comeback from the depths of the fleet after missing out a navigation mark shortly after the start. His anger at himself was additional motivation right to the finish where he landed fourth place. Dalin, second overall in 2016 and 2015 and third in 2014 was considered to be the outstanding favourite to win overall. Arriving in Gijon he said:
“I would have been nice to have done better after the start. Making an error like that is intolerable at my level. I had to chase back at everyone else after that.
I was angry. I had some inspired, fast tacks after that that allowed me to get back to Sébastien Simon. I was annoyed, angry all the way through. But to finish at the foot of the podium is positive. I go fast and it looks like I know how to sail after all! I have to get into the race better and not put myself into those positions early on, and to start better.”
Result, Leg 1, Bordeaux to Gijon
1-Nicolas Lunven (Generali) in 2d 07h 31’ 36
2-Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement) at 13’23 behind winner
3-Sébastien Simon (Bretagne CMB Performance) at 27’46
4-Charlie Dalin (Skipper Macif 2015) at 28’53
5-Yann Éliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) at 39’40
6-Alexis Loison (Custo Pol) at 48’26
7-Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) at 53’56
8-Julien Pulvé (Team Vendée Formation) at 1h02’56 - Premier bizuth
9-Gildas Mahé (Action contre la faim) at 1h06’54
10-Pierre Quiroga (Skipper Espoir CEM-CS) at 1h08’55
22 Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) +2h 20m 07s
24 Hugh Brayshaw (The Offhshore Academy) +3h 3m 58s
28 Mary Rook (Inspire +) +3h 46m 39s
Alan Roberts (Seacat Services): “It was a leg of ups and downs. I got out of the Gironde quite well, always in the top few. On the beat out to the BXA mark just out of the entrance the forecasts were not agreeing with each other, one was saying go left, one go right. I dug out to the left and it came in good on the right so that was the first down. Then I held my position on the leg down to the south. Then the breeze started to come back in, I had a good sleigh ride back where I seemed to be quick on and that was a good ‘up’ then straight after that it was into 45-50kts which I think I did a pretty bad job of self management on. I had not slept enough beforehand or eat enough. I paid the price for that as I just did not get the boat moving in the breeze and made silly mistakes like the ballast slipping to leeward. And then I caught back in towards the end so I was a little bit happier.
I did not get my sleep early on. After the tack I found I was sailing for 20 minutes with ballast to leeward in 40kts. That is not good. I lost a couple of battens. There were downs but I felt I came back after them, all in all I am happy about that. I am a bit disappointed with the result, 22nd,”
Charlie Dalin (Skipper MACIF 2015): “ It would have been nice to have done better after the start. Making an error like that is intolerable at my level. I had to chase back at everyone else after that.
I was angry. I had some inspired, fast tacks after that that allowed me to get back to Sébastien Simon. I was annoyed, angry all the way through. But to finish at the foot of the podium is positive. I go fast and it looks like I know how to sail after all! I have to get into the race better and not put myself into those positions early on, and to start better.
Last night was tough. There was a hell of a lot of sea, torrential rain. But I like these conditions and feel comfortable in them. I was attacking and managed to hang in to the lead group. Everything was under control and I took no risks. I had prepared well for the transition and had had some naps and the boat was going well under pilot.
I am 29 minutes behind Nicolas Lunven. There is no place to compromise and lots can happen on this La Solitaire. The next leg looks light according to the weather files.
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