La Solitaire du Figaro - Yann Eliès victorious in opening leg

Yann Elies, skipper du Figaro Groupe Queguinner, vainqueur de la 1ere étape de la Solitaire du Figaro - Eric Bompard cachemire 2012
© Alexis Courcoux
At 15:59:07 this afternoon in the opening leg of the 2012 La Solitaire du Figaro - Eric Bompard Cachemire, Yann Eliès, on Groupe Queguiner-Le Journal des Entreprises, crossed the line in first place to take the victory. The French skipper took three days, three hours, nine minutes and seven seconds of extreme concentration to cover the 451 miles from Paimpol to Gijon, Spain. Fewer than nine minutes later it was the turn of young Morgan Lagravière on Vendée to clinch second place, while Fabien Delahaye on Skipper Macif 2012 in third completed the podium.

Yann Eliès, Morgan Lagravière and Fabien Delahaye formed a tight-knit trio who led the opening leg from the very first night of La Solitaire du Figaro - Eric Bompard Cachemire when they gained a significant edge over the rest of the fleet by skillfully negotiating the rock-strewn coast of northern Brittany.

Maintaining a watchful eye on their competitors the three skippers alternated positions at the front as they passed relatively unscathed through a ridge of high pressure with its light and tricky winds, maintained speed through a second foggy night that featured several close encounters with ships, and came out of the predicted massive wind shift best placed for the final approach to Gijon, arriving in typically close Figaro fashion after more than 450 miles.

'I forgot it could be that long… you need some good luck as well to win a leg!' declared an elated but tired Yann Eliès after docking in Gijon.

Yann Eliès' victory on this technical and varied course demonstrated his Figaro experience. 'This one was hard,' he shouted crossing the finish line. And he was right. Yann Eliès didn't make the greatest start last Sunday in Paimpol, then later during the coastal course he incurred a penalty and had to complete a 720° turn, eventually rounding the Radio France mark in the last quarter of the fleet. But from the initial miles in the Channel, when light breezes forced the skipper to hunt for the slightest puff close to the rocks, Yann was back in the game.

Yann Elies, skipper du Figaro Groupe Queguinner, vainqueur de la 1ere étape de la Solitaire du Figaro - Eric Bompard cachemire 2012
© Alexis Courcoux
On Sunday night he took the lead, followed by Morgan Lagravière (Vendée) and Fabien Delahaye (Skipper Macif 2012) who were to become his faithful travel companions for the whole leg.

The skipper of Groupe Queguiner-Le Journal des Entreprises went on to round each of the following marks in first: the Grande Basse de Portsall, close to the Brittany tip, then the Birvideaux lighthouse before attacking the Bay of Biscay and up to the finish line in Gijon. With today's victory Yann Eliès, who is competing in his 13th Solitaire du Figaro - Eric Bompard Cachemire, reaches an impressive score of six leg wins since his debut in the race.

The remainder of the top 10 streamed across the finish line of an increasingly stormy Gijon in little over an hour, with Nicolas Lunven (Generali) taking fourth ahead of Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat), Paul Meilhat (Skipper Macif 2011), Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat), Frederic Duthil (Sepalumic), Damien Guillou (La Solidarité Mutualiste) and Xavier Macaire (Skipper Herault).

The best of the international contingent were set to arrive in succession, Nick Cherry on Artemis 77, Francisco Lobato on Roff and Sam Goodchild on Artemis were within two miles of each other as they approached Gijon in 25th, 26th and 27th places respectively. As the Leg 1 winner, Eliès, crossed the line this afternoon they had around 20 miles to make to the finish line.

Yann Eliès (Groupe Queguiner - LeJournal des Entreprises), first leg winner: 'If somebody had taken it from me on the final miles, it would have been tough! It was part of the possible scenario, I did not know where Thierry Chabagny was, the wind shifted completely when I crossed the finish line. You had to have a bit of luck to win this leg, but it also required some hard work, and a good speed. The three together allowed me to win. However, at the start, it was a disaster, I wondered what had happened to me, I made lots of mistakes, nothing was right, and then I got a bit upset, I told myself: you have to go and get it I had an opportunity in front of Perros Guirec and I grabbed it right away.

About racing in a tight trio: 'Yes, it helps to be at full speed all the time. But one must continue to think twice, to make sure you're going in the right direction, to do the right analysis and not to rely only on the two guys around you. We must try to avoid wasting effort. It could have been a leg with gaps in the finish times, but in fact proved not to be. It's one of my problems: I always win legs where there are no gaps.'

About his sixth leg victory: 'The most important thing is the way you win it. Taking the lead four hours after the start and never let it go, not one centimetre. I'm happy with myself for that, I really gave a lot to stay in the lead all the time. It was not clear because the two young guys behind, Morgan and Fabien, they are really good competitors. They will be hard to beat.'

Morgan Lagravière (Vendée), second place (Eight minutes and 57 seconds behind the leader): 'With the different transitions we faced, I was hoping that some errors would be made by Yann or Fabien but Yann was unbeatable...he really sailed well. He is very experienced and continues to show his skills. The conditions were very random with transitions and anything can happen in those kind of conditions.

Morgan Lagraviere, skipper du Figaro Vendée, 2eme de la 1ere étape de la Solitaire du Figaro - Eric Bompard cachemire 2012
© Alexis Courcoux

'I was very focused on my race. I'm happy but this is the logical continuation of my progression and consistency in the results of my pre-season races. I will continue on this trend. The hardest part on the leg was to manage the windless pockets. You have to be strong – the work pays! The first 10 of the leg are almost the top 10 apart from one or two... I finish second but there were times when I could have ended up stuck in light winds.'

Fabien Delahaye (Skipper Macif 2012), third (20 minutes and 19 seconds behind the leader): 'We've had a nice trio throughout the race! I am tired even though I managed to get some sleep during the leg, but I would be happy to be in my bed! I knew we would get strong winds in the end, so I slept a lot at the beginning of the night which allowed me to hold out until the finish. But they managed to drop me at the end! It was nice to sail between the three of us since the beginning. Each of us had our moments and we sailed pretty well. Morgan and Yann were very good this morning in the strong breeze. The key factor for winning the leg for me was to sleep well, but you'd better ask Yann!'

Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat): 'There is a little sun and it feels good because it has been foggy from the start. I have been back in the race since the Birvideaux waypoint and I'm quite happy with my position right now. Let's wait and see. It is true that I went further west and if the wind shifts correctly, I should get it first. But the arrival on Gijon is always tricky. You never know what to expect. I am a little suspicious! '

Nicolas Lunven (Generali): 'I'm about 30 miles from Gijón. Yann and Morgan just escaped. Fabien is left in the bubble. Behind, I have Paul Meilhat and Thierry Chabagny downwind. I even have a ray of sunshine coming! I was wondering if the sun still existed, but with this blue sky ahead, I should have the answer within minutes. I've seen Paul Meilhat since last night and it's barely an hour since I saw Gedimat, and Fred. We expect changing wind conditions very soon, a shift of 180 ° or less. It's going to redistribute all the positions, I hope I won't lose all the benefit from the work I've done in recent days, I am really looking forward to the finish as I'm getting really tired.'

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