GOSPORT sailor Alex Thomson's role in a non-stop round the world race was thrown into doubt after he underwent emergency surgery.
Thomson, 36, was due to compete in the two-handed Barcelona World Race starting tomorrow from the Spanish city with New Zealander Andy Meiklejohn as his co-skipper.
But Thomson was forced to meet the race's medical officer after complaining of a niggling lower stomach pain.
After examination yesterday, he underwent an operation to remove his appendix - placing a question mark over whether he will now compete in the 25,000-mile race onboard his 60ft boat Hugo Boss.
Stewart Hosford, chief executive officer of Alex Thomson Racing, said last night: 'I think it is highly improbable he will be starting the race.'
He added that he was happy Thomson underwent surgery now rather than fall ill part-way through the race. 'That could have been very, very serious,' he said.
Thomson's role in the race was already in question because his girlfriend, Kate Denham, is due to give birth to their first child on January 4.
Doctors at the Teknon clinic in Barcelona said he was in "good spirits" and was recovering well.
Dr Frances Bonet said: 'Hopefully the diagnosis was done very early and the surgery was done two hours later.'
Mr Hosford said the team will discuss their options and announce a decision later today.
He went on: 'I think we are actually quite lucky with this scenario.
'We would rather it not had happened at all, but it is fortunate it did while he was here. And I think that if you start worrying about luck in this game, then you are nowhere.'
Thomson has pedigree in the race after coming second in 2008.
The other British entry in the 14-strong top-class fleet is record breaking yachtswoman Dee Caffari.
The 37-year-old from Titchfield has teamed up with the relatively inexperienced Spanish sailor, Anna Corbella, to make up the race's only all-female entry.
'It's suddenly made it a daunting task having so many top quality sailors starting,' said Caffari.
'But we know from previous races that 14 may start but 14 do not necessarily cross the finish line, so we are going to try and keep up, but you have to be realistic.'
Caffari is the only woman to have sailed around the world non-stop and single-handed both with and against the prevailing winds and currents.
The Barcelona World Race is the only double-handed race around the globe and sails around the three capes: Good Hope, Leeuwin and the Horn.
The surviving yachts are due back in Barcelona in early March.