Lagravière's look at the race (4)

“It's a true long-term test”

While the leading skippers are getting ready to return to the Northern hemisphere in a few days, those at the back of the Vendée Globe fleet are just entering the South Pacific. Tactical games for those at the front before getting back into the trade winds, strong winds for the latter – it’s not the same for everyone around the world...

 

What's your analysis of the leaders' climb back up the South Atlantic?

Morgan Lagravière: We know that this stretch of the race is conducive to that elastic widening and contraction of gaps. The most spectacular was undoubtedly Alex Thomson's (Hugo Boss) comeback on Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire VIII). Thomson was nearly 800 miles behind at Cape Horn, and he got back up to less than 30 miles behind before the elastic began to stretch away from him again.

Given that, was the domination of Armel threatened?

Not really...Armel was well placed in relation to Alex and the wind ahead. He also quickly widened the gap after feeling a little bit of heat. Armel is undoubtedly the best prepared of all the competitors; he has the experience of his previous Vendée Globes, but also his uncompromising wrestles during the Solitaire du Figaro. It's a valuable asset. Alex will perhaps regain a few miles during tricky passages like passing through the Doldrums or round the Azores High. But Armel has a more versatile boat. I don't see him letting go of his first place, except in the case of some major race incident.

These last few days have been marked by a lot of breakages...

After two months of racing, the boats are beginning to suffer. We are seeing that this particularly affects the competitors who've not had the benefit of the same level of preparation as the leaders. I'm thinking of Conrad Colman or even Sébastien Destremau, but also of all those who have dismasted or suffered damage to rigging. All of these skippers are paying for less complete preparation, usually through a lack of means.

In your opinion, with regard to the foils, is their reliability no longer a subject of debate?

It's clear, with four foilers in the first four places. We were waiting to see what the foils would give you over a long-term test, and we have seen. There's no longer any doubt about what they are bringing. Discussions should now focus on improving the ergonomics and ways of enhancing their performance. We're only at the beginning of the study of this area. I had the opportunity to do the Transat Saint-Barth - Port-la-Forêt on an old generation IMOCA; we immediately noticed the difference in performance but also the discomfort (laughs) as soon as we got on board a foiler.

This is what's causing the incredible gap between the front and back of the fleet…

It's gigantic. When the winner crosses the finish line, some of them will still be in the middle of the Pacific. My thoughts are particularly with the race management team: it must be a particularly complex situation to manage and ensure the safety of such a diverse fleet.