How does the tour of Guadeloupe give “an extraordinary spice” to the outcome of the event?

More than 23 days of navigation to win the first edition of a prestigious race with only 98 seconds ahead of his runner-up. The duel between Canadian Michael Birch and Frenchman Michel Malinovsky could not have made the Route du Rhum more legendary in the sailing world, since its beginnings in 1978. This incredible suspense clearly launched the magic of the arrival of this event in Pointe-à-Pitre, after a tour of the island of Guadeloupe. “Guadeloupeans are very happy to experience such a race so closely. But for navigators, it’s a whole other story,” smiles Victor Jean-Noel.

A former navigator living in Guadeloupe, he is impatiently awaiting (by Wednesday morning, metropolitan time) the arrival of Charles Caudrelier and François Gabart, who is 63 miles behind on Tuesday afternoon (367 miles from the arrival), after six days of ordeal. This winner of two Transats des Alizés (1984 and 1997), who had to retire after dismasting during his only participation in the Route du Rhum (1998), is dithyrambic on this final of around 60 miles up to Pointe-à- Pitre: “This arrival around the island gives an extraordinary spice to the race. This has always been the essence of the Route du Rhum”.

The podium snatched by Franck Cammas in 1998

With in particular a passage from Bouillante to Basse-Terre which has not finished stressing the skippers in the coming hours. “It’s a critical area because the wind can sometimes come down from the high mountains, with surprising gusts, or on the contrary be very weak, warns our regional manager for the stage. For this edition, it will be different because there will really be a strong trade wind. The uncertainties of certain editions have thus earned notable reversals of the situation, such as when Franck Cammas stole third place from Marc Guillemot in 1998 thanks to a perfect final in Basse-Terre (less than 8 minutes difference in the end, after almost 13 days of adventure).

But the other, even crazier epilogue took place in 2018, when François Joyon caught up to beat François Gabart in extremis and win the previous Route du Rhum, with a 7-minute lead. An unforgettable “ascent”, almost similar to the one that took place 40 years earlier, which pushes the sailors to study their final in Guadeloupe for a long time. “For example, Armel Le Cléac’h sometimes comes to the island, and many sailors have solid contacts in Guadeloupe, in order to better prepare for their arrival in Pointe-à-Pitre, continues Victor Jean-Noël. They know it can be played there, it’s very tactical.

Beaten by nothing by Francis Joyon in Guadeloupe four years ago, Francois Gabart will try to take his revenge in the next hours on the Route du Rhum.
Beaten by nothing by Francis Joyon in Guadeloupe four years ago, Francois Gabart will try to take his revenge in the next hours on the Route du Rhum. – LOIC VENANCE / AFP

Thomson’s accident, asleep for the finish

He himself notably advised Michel Desjoyeaux before his various participations in the Route du Rhum. The only time he won, in 2002, “the organization had decided to simplify the race”, avoiding the skippers the famous 60 miles around the island, as during the second edition, in 1982. 4th in 2006 and 10th in 2010 on classic versions of the event, Michel Desjoyeaux evokes the “psychological aspect” of crossing Guadeloupe.

The swirling winds are almost unpredictable and you find yourself handling large areas of sails. There is no concern here on a personal level, but on the risks of seeing the classification be modified. There, with approximately more than 2 hours of gap between the first two, it would be very surprising that such a gap is filled. But beware, the brain can sometimes tell itself too quickly that it’s the end. There can be a rush of adrenaline and an upset alertness, as we saw with Alex Thomson. »

Four years ago, the Welsh skipper, asleep on his arrival on the outskirts of Guadeloupe, had indeed hit the cliff and lost the Imoca race, when victory was clearly promised to him. boat-captain of Thomas Ruyant, current 2nd in Imoca, Ronan Deshayes details the strategy of the LinkedOut sailboat: “It is certain that this extremely complicated bypass is a very important tactical point. We worked on different navigation schemes depending on whether we arrive day or night. It’s more comfortable to arrive at night because you can pass close to the coast, with a wind blowing off the hills. During the day, it’s more dangerous to do the same because it can be a windless area. It is therefore better to deviate further, before being forced to approach the coast at the level of the buoy of Basse-Terre”.

“We can quickly lose several hours”

Just after, at the Canal des Saintes, “the wind can shake very hard, so you can get out of a windless zone and suddenly experience acceleration, especially for multihulls”, continues Ronan Deshayes. Although the Ultims (the maxi-multihulls) will be entitled to telephone exchanges from land to warn them of the exact wind conditions, this is prohibited for the category of the Imoca (monohulls), which relies more on a duration of 10 hours than 6:30 a.m. to reach Pointe-à-Pitre. Finally, are we sure not to experience the same suspense as in 2018 for the final victory?

“The story of the Rum Route showed that the race could be done and undone thanks to this finish which makes the event uncertain, believes Ronan Deshayes. The accumulation of fatigue can cause clumsiness and a lack of lucidity. So no, having a sixty mile lead tonight does not guarantee victory. You can quickly lose several hours at the level of the Guadeloupe. » Francois Gabart can therefore still believe in his revenge.

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