Short of hearing the finish gun to signal his win, Vincent RIOU on PRB has just enjoyed a final magical moment on his Vendee Globe, now having 95.7 miles to sail certain of rapturous welcome in Les Sables d'Olonne with his closest adversary -Jean LE CAM - safely tucked 108.1 miles behind him.
Making 12.3 knots towards the finish line Riou, whose first Vendee Globe attempt this is, is due to take the winning gun some time just before midnight tonight and - depending on the overnight winds - will have an expected lead of between just eight and twelve hours after 87 days of racing.
Riou will set a new record for this solo monohull round the world course, bettering the 93 days 3 hrs 57 minutes and 32 seconds which was set by Michael DESJOYEAUX on the same boat in the last race in 2000-2001, when the new record holder worked as his preparateur. (shorecrew).
Riou has been the race's most consistent leader, proving himself well able to withstand the pressure placed on him by the constant attentions of Jean LE CAM (Bonduelle) and Mike GOLDING (Ecover) who are lining up for second and third, but prepared to take the kind of gambles that make the winning difference, yet sail conservatively when required.
" I am awash in a sea of happiness." Admitted the normally reserved Riou, whose quiet, matter of fact daily analysis has contrasted with the more flamboyant Le Cam. All the way up the Atlantic since Cape Horn, the battle between these three has continued with the likely winner only becoming clear over the last few days:
"I would agree that the percentage of work you do before the start can make the difference in whether you win or lose. Solo races are won with a team not on your own. PRB gave me all the means to prepare my boat properly two years in advance. You need a well prepared, solid and fast boat. I've got a few minor worries onboard but I'll talk to you about that tonight. The battle amongst the leaders has been relentless and I'm sure that in four years time the pace will be even quicker as the boats' performances are increased."
His boat has been immaculately prepared, taking more than two years in preparing the winning campaign, and while he admitted today that he has only had a few small problems, which he promised to elaborate about after finishing today.
Jean LE CAM on Bonduelle admitted that Riou had sailed a good race: "He's done a good race. We are only 100 miles from each other which is amazing after a round the world race. I took Vincent on board my trimaran (Bonduelle) because I knew he was good. I was really fed up yesterday because it was 28 knots in the squalls but now it is good sailing again. I have cried many, many times in this race. Some moments are tough, very tough in this race. It has really been a great experience."
For Mike GOLDING on Ecover, third has been hard won after being 800 miles off the lead at one point, but his hard driving and tactics in the Southern Ocean and never say die approach brought him right back into the race for victory until its last 48 hours.
He is due to finish sometime on Thursday afternoon. "I've enjoyed the race and I can't help but wonder what could have been if we hadn't had some problems with our halyards, but the reality is that if I took that out of the equation you could not really be sure of the outcome. Either way it's been very close all the way to the finish."
"I think the tempo of the race has gone up and it will go up again four years time. It's a shame, I would have liked to have won this race in particular and we have worked very hard towards that, but it's quite clear that whatever you do, no matter how prepared you are there is still an element of it which is not fully in your control. It is a long race and lots of things can happen, and the good thing for me it is that I have competed in the Vendee twice and had major problems on one and very few on the other, but both times I have been successful in completing the course and there are lots of less fortunate people than myself."