Full report to follow...
The ultimate honours in the historic clash of the monster multis, the no-holds-barred Ultime class which has set an electric pace for this historic 2010 Route du Rhum-La Banque Postale, will go down to the final 400 miles with a subtle, tactical showdown in light breezes.
The first of the giants is expected to finish this ninth edition off Point-à-Pitre, in Guadeloupe Monday evening (French time, early afternoon local), but even with a lead of 193 miles and 475 miles to go (16hCET Sunday), Franck Cammas on Groupama 3, was seeking to bolster his defences as much as possible in the light conditions which had already seen the leader slow to 10 knots Sunday afternoon.
" My position is good but I do have a no wind zone in front of me. There will be a few. Then I have to manage this big boat with all these transitions we will have during tonight and tomorrow morning. But the wind will be steady. It is diffcult to try to control simply becauase if you stop then the other can be catching at up to 20 knots, and the distance to me drops qiickly. But I am ready for everything."
But Coville reaffirmed today that he is not prepared to give up hope. Through today's radio vacation he paid tribute to the race strategy that Cammas and his routers Jean Luc Nélias and Charles Caudrelier have unfolded, but he warned the final miles will bring out the warrior in him.
The chances of beating Lionel Lemonchois' outstanding 2006 race course record of 7 days, 17 hours and 19 minutes, look very unlikely.
In the IMOCA Class Roland Jourdain's lead on Veolia Environnement remains solid for the moment as the fleet deal with fast reaching conditions, gusty winds over 30 knots through late Saturday and into the night and awkward seas, but they need to reposition themselves for the light winds and calms extending north east from the islands which will prevail in their route in the future. Already questions were being asked today if Armel Le Cléac'h might have given up some of his northing to try and get south of the high as it develops, but Le Cléac'h (Brit Air) was back up to third this afternoon and moving fastest of the fleet.
For the 41 solo skippers left racing in the Class 40 fleet, the shape of the front of the fleet has been stable for some time, with Thomas Ruyant (Destination Dunkerque) settled as the class race leader, today on the 16hrs (CET) with a lead of 67 miles, gaining another seven miles in second placed Sam Manuard (Vecteur Plus), but as a high pressure system starts to form in the north, threatening some of the main body of the northern contingent, the balance is in some way being redressed finally for those skipper in the south.
The best of the sud-ists has been Nicloas Troussel (CMB) and now into well formed trade winds, with a fast course ahead of him, maybe now is when he can will start to regain some of the 196 miles deficit he has on the fleet leader.
Against the dominant Ruyant he may not have pulled back miles with his southerly position, but that can only be a matters making a good knot VMG faster than most of the fleet during Sunday afternoon. Already Troussel has rocketed from 19th to 10th over the course of today. Ruyant should just have the speed and position to outrun the high as it develops, but it is not looking so good for those who have been in his wake for days on this high road.
Certainly this will be a fascinating race to watch over coming days with the Ultime giants set to finish over the next 24-36 hours.
Conditions have been pretty muscular, gusty with big, uncompromising seas at awkward angles. Sail damage has been reported, particularly by Route du Chocolat winner Tanguy de Lamotte on n Novedia-Initiatives (mainsail) and Thierry Bouchard on Comiris-Pole Elior Health), Conrad Colman on 40 Degrees has torn his big gennaker, Eric Defert on Terralia Drekan-Group has been frantically dealing with a pilot repair, the jobs lists lengthen.
In particular Yann Noblet (Appart City) has bailed to the south to escape the high pressure cell developing, but the weather models for the second part of the Class 40 race are certainly complex, and no lead looks safe.
London based Marco Nannini has spent his Sunday on Uni Credit in 10th and eleventh place, playing down his success to date in his amusing daily blog, considering that despite his Italian genes he has the propensity to make it as the British underdog.
And Pete Goss, some 100 miles in the wake of Troussel down to the south of the Azores, is sailing steadily on DMS and should, like the double winner of the Solitaire du Figaro, start to see some return now in his southerly investment.
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