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29 January 2005, 09:43 am
What A Climax!
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Vendée Globe

Jean Le CAM and Mike GOLDING are closing the gap on Vincent RIOU, who now has under 1000 miles to go to reach the finish. Benefiting from different conditions from the leader, who is now level with Lisbon, Le Cam and Golding have been continually nibbling away at his lead to get within 76 and 148 miles of the leader respectively.
Closing up and then separating again and again, the margin between the competitors is up and down like a yo-yo, and after three months at sea, this must be particularly tough on the competitors' nerves. At the end of last week, Vincent RIOU (PRB) had a solid lead of more than 160 miles over Jean LE CAM (Bonduelle). Early this week, as they were forced to deal with a small high-pressure area, Jean LE CAM and his longstanding rival Mike GOLDING (Ecover) willingly took a gamble and attempted to take a short cut close to the centre of the anticyclone, knowing full well that they were running the risk of being becalmed in a wind hole. In just two days, the gap between the two frontrunners in the Vendée Globe was reduced to less than 30 miles.

Then, in the middle of the week Vincent RIOU got away again and repaired his lead to almost 160 miles. That was until this morning, when his lead has fallen off to a measly 76 miles! The reason? More than 600 miles off the coast of Portugal, Vincent RIOU and his two rivals are now no longer experiencing the same weather conditions. The skipper of PRB is currently sailing at the latitude of Vigo on a bearing of 40° off the direct route. 170 miles further south, down at the latitude of Lisbon, Jean Lde CAM is picking up more wind and is on a bearing 10° closer to the direct route. The result: Jean's VMG is 3 knots above Vincent's. The most annoying thing for Vincent is that he cannot keep his opponents in check, as he would lose all the lead he has built up. The tension has reached a climax for the three frontrunners after 83 days of racing. The suspense is still building.

This could play out in two ways. Either, all three run into headwinds, in which case, they will be forced to change tack and Vincent's position is clearly more favourable. The gap would widen once again, and Riou's chances of winning would increase. Or Jean LE CAM and Mike GOLDING may continue to experience different winds, enabling them to sail closer to the direct route. In this case, all three boats could well be battling it out together, as they enter the Bay of Biscay on Monday. That is something that has never happened before in the Vendée Globe!

Behind, Dominique WAVRE (Temenos) and Sébastien JOSSE (VMI) are continuing their own little race and are still almost neck and neck, with just 13 miles separating them, as they sail to the north west of the Cape Verde Islands. In the Southern Hemisphere, Jean-Pierre DICK (Virbac-Paprec) is still on a course due north towards the Equator, and is currently sailing off the town of Natal, which is at the north eastern tip of the Horn of Brazil. Behind him, Joé SEETEN (Arcelor Dunkerque) is desperately trying to hold back Conrad HUMPHREYS (Hellomoto), who has come back to within 140 miles of the French sailor. Bruce SCHWAB (Ocean Planet) and Benoît PARNAUDEAU (Max Havelaar-Best Western), to the south of Rio, are facing some unstable conditions, while to the north of the Falklands, Anne LIARDET (Roxy) is battling it out in light airs. Raphaël DINELLI (Akena Vérandas) has finally picked up some wind and will be able to pass States Island off the tip of Tierra del Fuego, and Karen LEIBOVICI (Benefic) is now only 300 miles from the exit from the South Pacific.

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