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Close Racing in La Solitaire du Figaro

Legs 1 and 2

After the first two stages of the 51st running of La Solitaire du Figaro, French sailor Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire has worked his way to the top of the leaderboard with two stages still to go. Sailed in hydrofoil-equipped Beneteau Figaro 3s, the one-design solo offshore regatta attracted 35 boats this year, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sailed in four stages around France and Great Britain, the race is perhaps most famous for its incredibly close one-design racing and massive fleets of boats racing into the finish, oftentimes overlapped.

Figaro Leg 2 start
The fleet of 35 Beneteau Figaro 3s at the start of Leg 2 of La Solitaire du Figaro.
© 2020 Alexis Courcoux / La Solitaire du Figaro

In the first leg, Xavier Macaire won a tacking duel to the finish over young Lois Berrehar to claim victory by just 1 minute, 35 seconds. After nearly four days of solo racing to Fastnet Rock and back, fully 80% of the 35-boat fleet finished within one hour of the leader — incredibly close racing. On the second leg, Armel Le Cléac’h again tried a northerly routing option in the early stages. Instead of setting him deep in the fleet as on the first leg — forcing him to play catch-up — his gutsy tactical move paid dividends in the second leg. Establishing an early lead, the Vendée Globe winner and two-time Figaro champion continued to extend on the fleet almost all the way to the finish, allowing him to open up just a bit of a gap on the fleet in the overall results.

Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire during Leg 2.
© 2020 La Solitaire du Figaro

Briton Sam Goodchild continually worked his way up the leaderboard and eventually ground down Yann Eliès to claim second place in Leg 2 and move into third place overall. Three-time event winner Eliès is still well in contention, currently in fourth place overall.

Three men with champagne bottles
The Leg 2 podium finishers, left to right: Sam Goodchild, Armel Le Cléac’h and Yann Eliès.
© 2020 Alexis Courcoux / La Solitaire du Figaro

Legs 3 and 4

The next two legs will take the fleet from their current location in Dunkerque, out the English Channel, and around the northwest corner of France before some coastal touring along the west coast and Brittany region. Conditions have thus far been pretty mild for the fleet, and the next leg looks like it could be more of the same, with stronger frontal pressure reaching France just at the conclusion of Leg 3 or after. With light, variable and constantly evolving breeze in the forecast, combined with the big currents of the English Channel and the top of France, Leg 3 could prove to be the most challenging yet. Whether it will shuffle the leaderboard or solidify it remains to be seen.

Should Armel Le Cléac’h manage to claim victory in this year’s La Solitaire it would mark a stunning comeback for the Vendée Globe winner. Since his last major triumph, Le Cléac’h had a brief and wild ride with the most recent Banque Populaire trimaran that ended in two capsizes and bitter disappointment. Another win in the Figaro would go a long way to silence his critics and exorcise personal demons. Sam Goodchild, on the other hand, is the first English sailor to truly have a shot at winning the event in the modern era. He’s knocking on the door of being the first non-French entry to win a stage since 1998, when Irishman Damian Foxall did it. English ocean racing legend Phil Sharp is currently in 23rd place. The third leg of the Solitaire du Figaro starts on Saturday.

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