After such a fine sporting year, the presence of three Brits in a marathon-length French sporting event begs an obvious question – can Sam Davies, Mike Golding or Alex Thomson emulate Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France and win the Vendée Globe?
The comparison with the Tour is not a fatuous one, at least not in France.
The 20 skippers taking part in the solo round-the-world race will sail out of Les Sables d’Olonne today in front of a huge number of people – 300,000 turned out four years ago – with more than 1.6m already having visited the race village.
Every one of the six editions to date has been won by a Frenchman, though – a certain Ellen Macarthur gave them a run for their money in 2004 – so it’s no great reach for Golding to observe: ‘It would be a Bradley Wiggins moment for a British sailor to win the Vendee.’
So it would. Realistically, with a limited budget, Portsmouth’s Sam Davies (Saveol) is highly unlikely to repeat her fourth-placed heroics of four years ago.
Warsash veteran Golding (Gamesa), on his last tilt at the Vendée, and Gosport’s hard-charging Thomson (Hugo Boss), his boat-busting speed now tempered with the caution of experience, can both be counted as solid outside bets.
Four years ago, only 11 of the 30 starters completed the course, so finishing is clearly the name of the game.
And if, as most competitors believe, you can be in touch with the leaders at Cape Horn, then the final haul back up the Atlantic opens the race to all comers.
That said, the south-coast-based Brits will have to take on some clear favourites to take the win – and they are all French.
Armel le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) came second in his first Vendée Globe four years ago in a boat that wasn’t particularly rated and then went on to win the actual sailing equivalent of the Tour de France, the Solitaire du Figaro, for the second time.
With a solid build-up to the main event and a new Open 60, the wiry 35-year-old starts as favourite, if not a runaway one.
Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) is on his third Vendée, with a sixth and a retirement (after breaking his rudder on a UFO) his past record.
JP, as he’s known, doesn’t seem like a leading contender. But with a string of two-handed victories to his name, not least both Barcelona World Races and this year’s TJV, he is one of two skippers tipped by Golding as prospective winners.
Vincent Riou (PRB) is Golding’s other choice. ‘Much as it pains me to say so, Riou is a strong candidate, probably the strongest,’ he said.
‘He’s got everything – a great boat, the knowledge, he’s got all the pieces of the puzzle. It only pains me to say it because he looks like John Major. And no-one who looks like John Major should win the Vendée.’
Too late as the PM-lookalike won back in 2004 and came third in 2008.
Thomson, meanwhile, has had a small pop at the leading contenders, highlighting the fact that all three of the above, among others, are at the helm of latest generation lighter, Verdier VPLP-designed boats.
‘I just don’t see most of them getting round the world,’ he said.
‘I think we’ll see an attrition rate again of at least 50 per cent.
‘This is a confidence game and how confident are these guys really in their boats?
‘I know a lot of people who don’t believe in their boats. From the last race the rule (change) made one advantage and that was to be light and being light doesn’t make you more reliable, it does the opposite… everybody is pretty nervous about it.’
The next three months will demonstrate who has negotiated the tightrope most successfully.