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7 February 2001, 09:08 am
A Sprint To The Finish
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On day 90 of the Vendée Globe, Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) & Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher) have both touched the Westerly winds and are on the final sprint home to the finish line in Les Sables d'Olonne.
Desjoyeaux was the first to get going and has managed to pull out a comfortable lead over Ellen, which, as he remarked, "represents the time difference of the two boats entering the new breeze". As PRB was further in the North, Desjoyeaux has inevitably reached stronger winds, and is roaring along at speeds of around 16 knots, or 2 and a half knots faster than the British skipper. Michel Desjoyeaux, once holder of a 640 mile gap over Ellen rounding Cape Horn, is only now thinking seriously about taking the final victory in this planetary regatta, with just another two low pressure systems to take him there. "Now it's the weather ahead, which I am focused on. The boat's going much faster than I thought coming out of this ridge! I am so conscious of not wanting to break anything, which would slow PRB down now. I've got one foot on the accelerator, one on the brake".

During the final 1528 miles left to go, the weather systems look stable until the finish and even between the two low pressure systems sweeping across from the West, there is no significant lighter patch in the forecasts to dramatically slow up both or either boat.

Ellen, whose determination and tenacity have held the world breathless, has watched the great escape ahead, and with perhaps a tinge of resignation in her voice commented this morning: "I tried an option in the East but it hasn't worked out well as you can see. We need to get back home, that's all. There is not a lot to do strategy-wise anymore. The only chance left was the Azores anticyclone. I can't see anything else except if Michel has a problem." Knowing Ellen, there won't be any question of resignation before she reaches the finish line, and she'll be fighting to the very end to keep the pressure on the leader and ensure no-one else usurps her own position. Her nearest threat comes from Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagere), who is consolidating his third place in the rankings ahead of Marc Thiercelin. However, this morning he did not seem overly optimistic of an opportunity to climb further up the podium. "I imagine that life isn't too great for Marc Thiercelin, and I don't see any danger from him in the immediate. I'm just about to miss the system which Mich & Ellen have got into. There's nothing tactically now I can do, but at the risk of repeating myself, anything can still happen."

Sparring partners Thomas Coville (Sodebo) & Dominique Wavre (Union Bancaire Privee) have at last escaped the nightmare of the Saint Helena & Doldrum light airs and are pacing themselves at around 10 knots in the fair trade winds. Coville is the one now ahead by less than 20 miles, a surprising fact for him: "It's nice to have a comrade in arms as it were so close by, and it spices things up for the finish. I thought he would put more miles between us after the Doldrums because I don't have my genoa."

Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool), who was given a 'carte blanche' by the winds, to pass unharmed through the Saint Helena anticyclone, crossed the Equator at 1400hrs UT Monday. "It's great to have caught up 300 miles or so. I went West, just like Bilou, and we're the only ones not to have slowed down. I really have a good upwind boat and I hope it will help me to come back on the boats ahead of me."

The British battle between Mike Golding (Team Group 4) and Josh Hall (EBP/Gartmore) is hotting up. It is now Golding ahead by a mere 24 miles, but in the more favourable position to the East, as Hall himself looks like he is about to take a beach holiday in Brazil, still hanging in there for that crucial wind change to the East.

With the current average speeds (16 - 17 knots) made by the leading boat, arrival of the leaders is estimated to be on Saturday 10th February.

Ranking polled at 0700 UTC Wednesday 7th February.

Boat Speed DTF DTL
1 PRB (Desjoyeaux) 15.5 1162 0
2 Kingfisher (MacArthur) 13.1 1303 141
3 SILL Matines La Potagere (Jourdain) 9.59 1720 558
By Philippe Jeantot
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