138 sailors will start La Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe on Sunday November 6th. Four solo skippers in that huge fleet are out to defend the class titles they won four years ago on the 2018 edition of the race. Francis Joyon in returns in the Ultim 32/23 (IDEC Sport), Yoann Richomme in Class40 (Paprec-Arkea), Paul Meilhat (Biotherm) in IMOCA and Armel Tripon (Les P’tits Doudous) in Ocean Fifty. Ten days before the start, they explain their motivations and estimate their chances of a double.
Since the creation of La Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe, only three sailors have achieved the double in the same class: Laurent Bourgnon in the ORMA trimaran (in 1994 and 1998), Roland Jourdain in IMOCA (in 2006 and 2010) and Franck-Yves Escoffier in the 50-foot multihull (in 2002 and 2006). Two other skippers have won twice in a row, but in different classes: Ellen MacArthur (in a 50-foot monohull in 1998 then in IMOCA in 2002) and Lionel Lemonchois (in ORMA in 2006 then in Multi 50 in 2010). For this 12th edition an unprecedented four sailors return to defend their titles.
Ultime32/23. Francis Joyon: “I’m going to sail very thoroughly and push as hard as I can.”
Francis Joyon, title holder of La Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe in Ultim 32/23, is entering thes solo race for an incredible eighth time, 32 years after his first participation. The 66-year-old skipper is still just as passionate, still just as driven, with his thirst for the unknown unquenched. “People often ask me why I’m going back on the Route du Rhum. This is a question that I did not ask myself, because it is obvious to me,” he explains. “This race continues to make me dream, to make me want to do it. I love this route, with its tough first phase, the uncertainty of the choice of route to cross, the risk taking with the weather. No Route du Rhum is like another.” Joyon knows repeating his feat from 2018 will be difficult but not impossible. “My boat is overhauled by the latest Ultim 32/23s. But so too that was the case four years ago. So I am really curious to know how it will go. I give myself a little less than a 10% chance of winning. But that’s enough and I’m going to play my card thoroughly. I still want to fight, to give my all, to serve my boat as best I can. It is demanding but it does not exceed me yet. I know this boat it is a reliable, solid, strong. I will make the most of it. Will it be enough? The weather will decide…”
Class40. Yoann Richomme: “I don’t want to imagine anything other than fighting at the front of the race”
While waiting for the launch of his new IMOCA Paprec-Arkea (scheduled for early 2023), Yoann Richomme has the opportunity to defend his title in the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe in Class40, again with a new boat. The French skipper has strong memories of his victory in 2018. “It was a very strong adventure,” he explains. Despite very tough competition, Richomme clearly has the means to win a second time in Guadeloupe. “I want to do well,” he said. “We are doing everything with the team since the launch of the boat in order to be there and aim for at least a place on the podium. We put in a lot of time and energy to get the boat ready and to be able to battle at the top of the fleet. I just don’t want to imagine anything other than fighting at the front of the race.” How does Yoann Richomme manage the pressure as the defending champion? “It is above all my boat that puts the pressure on because I know that it has the capacity to achieve a good result.” replies the skipper. “As well as the competition, it will be interesting to measure up against Corentin Douguet, who has the same boat as me. We will have to be up to it but I have no choice if I want to get on the podium!”
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IMOCA. Paul Meilhat: “The goal was never to defend my title”
In 2018, Paul Meilhat won La Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe in 12 days and 11 hours, aboard an IMOCA equipped with straight daggerboards. He returns aboard Biotherm, a brand new foiler launched on August 31 on which he only sailed for 15 days before arriving in Saint-Malo. Given this very tight timing, and the fact that he has not competed in a solo race for four years, Paul Meilhat does not consider himself a favorite at all. “I don’t think at all about the status of defending champion, I don’t put any pressure on myself about that. The objective was never to defend my title, we must not get the wrong fight. I need to have a more reasonable management of my boat. The big attack will be for later.” underlines Meilhat. “Today, I’m still in the phase of making my IMOCA more reliable and getting to grips with it, and that’s normal. My primary objective is of course to finish, but I also want to race boat for boat with other competitors to better understand Biotherm’s potential”.
Ocean Fifty. Armel Tripon: “I am the former winner but not the favourite!”
Armel Tripon’s state of mind is quite similar to that of Paul Meilhat. “I was a bit of an outsider four years ago. I come back with the experience of a Route du Rhum but paradoxically with a lot less experience on this boat. I capsized in April and I lack sailing time on the water, knowledge of the boat, which is very important, especially on a multihull,” recalls the skipper of the Ocean Fifty Les P’tits Doudous. “Yes, I am the former winner but not the favourite! My boat needs to be sailed hard and fast but has capsized three times in its racing life (this is Lalou Roucayrol’s former Arkema, editor’s note). The experience of the previous edition is essential. I know where I’m going. I know the level of stress and commitment it takes to race a single-handed transatlantic race on an Ocean Fifty, all the way to the finish because the trade winds are very tiring on these boats on which you have to be on high alert downwind. Knowing how to sleep when the boat is going at 25 knots is vital.”
Six other former winners at the start In addition to the four title holders mentioned above, six other sailors entered this year are former winners of La Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe. They are Philippe Poupon (in 1986 in “scratch”), Thomas Coville (in 1998 in IMOCA), Roland Jourdain, Thomas Ruyant (in 2010 in Class40), Erwan Le Roux (in 2014 in Multi 50) and François Gabart (in 2014 in IMOCA).
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