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34 Solo Skippers Lined Up in Saint Nazaire Ready To Start the 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro Sunday

Published on 18/08/2021

The race village for the 52nd edition of La Solitaire du Figaro was officially opened today and inaugurated this afternoon in Saint Nazaire in the Loire-Atlantique department on the French coast west of Nantes.

With 34 Figaro Beneteau 3 docked in the shadow of the imposing former Kriegsmarine submarine base, the city which has a proud maritime heritage especially in shipbuilding and fishing, is set to become especially familiar to the crème de la crème of solo one-design offshore racing.

It is the major supporter for this and the next five editions. This time Saint Nazaire are hosts to the start and to the finish of this especially gruelling 2021 edition which comprises four stages totalling nearly 2500 nautical miles of racing, three of them over 620 nautical miles.

Twenty five years after the race first visited, hosting the finish of a stage won by French legend Jean Le Cam, the city is now offering an unprecedented level of support, a long term commitment that has to be great news for the future of an event which forms the foundation bedrock of French and international solo offshore racing.

Ahead is nearly a full month of racing. The opening Stage 1 sets the tone, a 689 nautical miles passage across the Bay of Biscay to the notorious La Coruña on the NW corner of Spain returning to finish in Lorient, the epicentre of French ocean racing.

From Lorient the 490 miles second stage is a more coastal, tidal affair rounding the tip of Brittany before passing eastwards up the Channel to finish in Fecamp, just east of Le Havre. Stage 3 takes the racers out of the channel and north at Lands End to cross the mouth of the Bristol Channel turn at Saint Gowan by Milford Haven, Wales to finish off the Bay of Morlaix.

And instead of the sprint finale which has been the norm in recent the last stage is a mammoth 685 miles classic passage from Morlaix, by Roscoff, to the Fastnet Rock where the exhausted racers will make their final turn for a finish line back in Saint Nazaire on or around 17th or 18th September.

Speaking at the official inauguration today Jean-Luc Séchet who is the Vice-president of the Loire-Atlantique Department noted: “This is the start of a new chapter for this great event which will now start and finish in the port cities of the Loire-Atlantique until 2026. I would like to thank the communities and port organizations which responded last September to the area’s call to work together and jointly implement this wonderful event. In Loire-Atlantique we have made this principle of collaboration the DNA of our public action. And I salute the 34 skippers whose talent and commitment gives this event its beauty at its highest level. At the same time we must heed their warnings about the fragility of our oceans. The sea is not a playground like others it is first and foremost a living ecosystem and a vital heritage. This is the reason why the village that we are inaugurating today will give pride of place to activities which highlight these actions that we can all do together to get to know it better and to protect it better. “

The Solitaire du Figaro and the Loire-Atlantique region have a long history dating to the origins of the event’s predecessor the Aurora race. In 1970, the Belgian Joan de Kat won the very first edition into nearby Pornic. In the ensuing years as the race grew in size and intensity so the department, whose ports of La Baule, Croizic and Pornichet continued to be key stopovers.

So many exciting stages have been seen along the Loire coast where great figures, like Christophe Auguin, Alain Gautier and Dominic Vittet wrote their race victories into Loire-Atlantique ports. The same goes for Jean Le Cam, one of the elite group of triple winners who won his second overall success title here in 1996, clinching his title into Saint-Nazaire.

And maybe one of the most mythical finishes was staged on these water in 2003 when Armel Le Cléac’h won by just thirteen seconds ahead of Alain.“That victory in 2003 in Saint-Nazaire launched my career.” Recalls Le Cléac’h who last year joined the elite club of three times winners at that same finish line off Saint Nazaire last year.

The 34 strong fleet for this 52nd edition includes international skippers representing six different nations aside from host nation France. Italy, Spain, Ireland, Great Britain, USA and Switzerland all field one or more skippers.

Among the top internationals this time, Briton Alan Roberts (Seacat Services) is back for his eighth consecutive time and Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) who is looking to improve on last year’s fifth position overall.

“It is great to be here and always exciting to see the village open. What is great for me especially is to see this area supporting the race long term, an area which is committing and investing in sustainable energies which is the area many of my sponsors are in.” says Alan Roberts, “But each time you get to the start you have made small incremental gains in every area. I was sailing on the delivery here and just reflecting on what the experience of being on my eighth edition will bring. Little things here and there all add up on this race.”

4 stage winners into Saint-Nazaire
1996 (2nd stage, from Howth in Ireland): Jean Le Cam
2000 (2nd stage, starting from Gexto-Bilbao in Spain): Pascal Bidégorry
2003 (4th stage, from Dingle in Ireland): Lionel Péan
2019 (3rd stage, starting from Dunkirk): Frédéric Duthil

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