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Tom Dolan is from a farming family in Meath, and started his sailing on Lough Ramor plumb in the middle of Ireland, but thanks to Glenans Ireland (now Glenua) he has been totally committed to France’s challenging solo and two-handed offshore circuit for a dozen years now. With the reputation of being L’Irlandais Volante (The Flying Irishman) in this rarefied world, in September, he added to his laurels with sixth overall and the Vivi Trophy for the top non-French participant in the Figaro Solo 2022.



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Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan has had an intense autumn of training on the water with his Figaro Bénéteau 3 Smurfit Kappa – Kingspan, during which he focused on getting the best from the offshore one design’s new autopilot sailing with French skippers Elodie Bonafous and Kévin Bloc'h.

And once the boat was safely put away into the shed for a winter of maintenance and fine-tuning for next season, Dolan enjoyed a new experience on shore as he became part of the weather data, routing and performance cell supporting Arthur Le Vaillant who was racing in the Ultim 32/23 class on the 12th Route du Rhum - Destination Guadeloupe and finished sixth.

Dolan has been a guest at two prestigious gatherings recently in France and at home in his native Ireland. On November 28, the Irish sailor was invited to the "France Ireland Business Awards", a ceremony in the Ritz in Paris, where sponsor Kingspan received a prize for the “best Irish company established in France”.

"These annual trophies, organized by Network Ireland and the Franco-Irish Chamber of Commerce, reward the most dynamic companies which contribute in a big way to strengthening commercial ties between the two countries", explains Dolan, who is proud to wear the colours of Kingspan, a world leader in high-performance insulation and building panel solutions. He met Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin. “That was a big honour for me,” Dolan recalls.

On December 3rd, he was in Paris again, this time for the prizegiving for the 2022 French Elite Offshore Racing Championship, which took place at the Paris Boat Show the Nautic. The awards ceremony took place in the presence of Jean-Luc Denéchau, President of the French Sailing Federation, and Jean-Bernard Le Boucher, President of the Figaro Bénéteau Class. The top ten overall for the 2022 season were honoured, including Dolan, who was recognised for his fine 7th place (first foreigner).

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With the Figaro circuit season behind him, Ireland’s solo sailor Tom Dolan is fully involved in the Route du Rhum solo ocean race across the Atlantic from Saint-Malo to Guadeloupe. He is working in the back up team to French 35-year-old aspiring Ultim class racer Arthur Le Vaillant, the youngest Ultim skipper whose Mieux was launched as Geronimo ten years ago before becoming Thomas Coville’s Sodebo.

Dolan has been working on the boat during the build-up phase in Saint-Malo, but his primary job will be as part of the weather routing team. The 45 high-speed Multihulls in the Ultim, Ocean Fifty, and Multi Rhum classes are all allowed to use on-shore weather routers because their boats are so fast. The weather teams prepare detailed real-time strategies which allow the solo skippers to focus entirely on speed and sailing the boats safely.

From Saint Malo, Dolan reports, “We have been spending time on the boat now just double checking the systems and how they work and refining how we will work. The new thing I have not used in terms of the technology is every 15 minutes we have live information coming off his boat, boatspeed, wind direction and all the key data. It sends the last 15 minutes of information in packets. You can have it almost real time but that costs a fortune.”

Tom Dolan has been working on Arthur Le Vaillant Mieux during the build-up phase of the Route du Rhum in Saint-MaloTom Dolan has been working on Arthur Le Vaillant Mieux during the build-up phase of the Route du Rhum in Saint-Malo 

After putting his Beneteau Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan to bed in Port La Fôret before winter training, Dolan loves the atmosphere in Saint-Malo. He has sought to get involved with a big team and improve his learning and experience, “I have been interested in getting involved for a while, I am a real weather and technology geek. And we trained a bit together in the Figaro in the 2019 season. And so I connected with him and with Tanguy Leglatin who is also our coach in Lorient. So he was putting together a ‘cell’, and so there is Tanguy, the boat captain Jean Baptiste Le Vaillant, who is Arthur’s father and a very successful well known French ocean racing helm and myself and Pep Costa, who is Spanish and is also a Figaro sailor.”

He enthuses, “Pep and I mainly take turns at monitoring the boat, the performance and the safety issues, and analyse the real-time weather conditions coming off the boat and see how they match up to the weather modelling. And we are monitoring and updating the performance so that we know how the boat is going, and thus we can fine-tune the strategy and timing very accurately.”
“We use both WhatsApp and Telegram. Pep and I will send our info to Tanguy and JB, and they use that to develop and refine the strategy. We have a meeting every morning, but it is Tanguy who prepares the final information that is sent. The idea is to send clean, clear information with a very strict feed.”

He concludes, “ It is great fun and being at this huge Route du Rhum start. It reminds me that all these guys were at my level and I have raced against before so it strengthens my ambitions to push on and do more in the future. But this is a great learning experience.”

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Irish solo offshore sailor Tom Dolan and his French crew sailed to fifth place in the Figaro Beneteau 3 French National Championships, which were raced over the weekend off Lorient, Brittany. Racing Dolan’s Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan, the crew were lying in second place overall going into the last race for the 18 boat fleet but a tenth dropped them down the fleet.

Dolan called up French former Match Race world champion Bertrand Pacé – a multiple America’s Cup sailor and coach who is one of the coaches for his solo offshore training programme in Lorient – to steer for the crewed championships, with Gildas Mahé sailing as tactician. Benoit Hantzberg and Dolan trimmed and did the pit.

“We were just a little disappointed to have been in the frame near the end then finishing up with that one bad result. But in this fleet fifth is fine. Inshore, windward-leeward racing is not really my forte but it was great to sail with Bertrand and learn a lot which I can put to good use in the future.” Enthused Dolan.

The annual championships were contested over eight windward-leeward races and a 25 mile short inshore around the Groix island.

“It was a lot of fun to do and a nice way to end the racing season.” Concluded Dolan who will now step in to help with the onshore weather routing for a giant French Ultime on the upcoming Route du Rhum.

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Top Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) has taken seventh overall on the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro, the three-stage French solo offshore race which finished last night in Saint Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire estuary on the Atlantic coast.

Crossing the line at 21h49 last night, an exhausted Dolan was objective, pleased to have again finished inside the top 10 of the 34 starters who set off from the same waters three weeks ago. Still a 15th on the final 640-mile stage across the Bay of Biscay in strong winds and big seas did not allow him to hold on to the fifth place that he started the final leg with.

The Irishman again showed he is one of the best in the fleet, leading this stage after the first turning mark last Sunday night and Monday morning as the race set out across the Bay of Biscay. A tactical error in the middle of the Biscay leg, when passing through two successive weather systems, cost him dearly. By the time he sailed around the rocky Los Farallones islets on Spain’s north coast, he was down in 19th and only managed to gain four places on the 240 miles tough downwind stage to the finish line.

Twelfth on the first leg to Port La Foret, Dolan excelled on the second leg into Royan when he was fifth and the fastest on two high winds in the English Channel before the wind died and the race restarted 140 miles from the finish line.

"I feel disappointed in the last leg; I made a stupid mistake"

After a last leg which saw winds of 35kts and big Biscay seas, which meant 24 hours of steering with no sleep, Dolan said in Saint Nazaire, “I feel disappointed in the last leg; I made a stupid mistake. I made a point of positioning myself to the south of everyone, so I would be to windward when the change came and then chickened out to stick with the leaders and that is exactly what I should not have done. I should have stuck to my guns.”

“But seventh is good, it is a top 10, but it’s not fifth!” he smiled ruefully, “But I am sailing so much better. I was more free in my thinking in what I did and not worrying so much about the others. My starts have been better which is pleasing after all the work we did this winter and then I just need even more confidence in myself.”

Managing his limited sleep times is also an area he sees for improvement, “I need to get that sorted then I can start winning these things. I think I took sleep for granted and made bad decisions at tired times of the race. But seventh overall is top 10, and it was close. I am pleased to have been up front a lot and to show that 2020 (when he was fifth overall) was no fluke. That is good. Now I just want to sleep and go home to see my mum in Ireland.”

Published in Figaro

Monday 1700hrs: With just over 120 nautical miles to sail to the Farallones turning mark which lies just off the rugged north Spanish coast near to Gijon, the two leading title contenders on the third and final leg of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro continue to race sid- by-side, in clear sight of each other after over 30 hours of racing since the fleet left Royan on Sunday lunchtime. Ireland's Tom Dolan, who led the race on Monday morning has dropped back to tenth place this evening.

The Normandy region’s Guillaume Pirouelle left the start line on Sunday carrying a 14 minutes aggregate lead over Brittany’s second-placed Tom Laperche. This afternoon as the leading peloton race upwind towards the most southerly turning mark of the 640 nautical miles stage to Saint-Nazaire, rivals Pirouelle and Laperche remain no more than 100 metres apart, watching each other’s every move.

Last night when the Arcachon buoy – the first mark of the course - was reached Pirouelle collected his first Intermediate Sprint bonus of the race, gaining five minutes, Laperche getting three minutes in second. So close are these two adversaries racing on this race-deciding third leg it is not inconceivable that the net two minutes of bonus Pirouelle collected over his rival may yet prove decisive. They are that close.

With the lead group showing a lateral separation of over ten miles north to south late this afternoon the windward group in the new NW’ly breeze – Pirouelle and Laperche among them – seem to have got the new wind first and so moved forward on Ireland’s Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) who was leading through the early part of the day along with Spain’s Pep Costa (Team Play 2 B-TERRAVIA). They are now tenth and 12th respectively.

Pirouelle, a 28 year old former Olympic 470 campaigner, has largely kept Laperche behind him downwind yesterday night and this morning, and now upwind.

He reported today to the race media boat, “Since the start we've had more wind than expected, and the first night was faster and sportier under the big spinnaker. This allowed me to progress well. I got first in the Intermediate Sprint my first one out of the three in this Solitaire, it's always good to take. In terms of the weather we have a front coming our way this afternoon. It’s not very active, but he'll still back the wind. We should tack when we have more headers then head towards a small anticyclone which will also change the wind with a few tacks getting us down to the southwest wind which will allow us this fast downwind to Saint-Nazaire. Tom (Laperche) is racing just behind behind me and and I need to focus on resting a little looking at this big downwind final, which will be physically difficult. For the moment, the conditions are quite cool, the pilot is steering well, it allows us to sleep a little. If all goes well, we could pass Los Farallones tomorrow in the early afternoon. We are waiting for the South-West for the end of the ascent towards the Spanish mark. But it's on the final leg downwind where it will be decided.

And so self-management, ensuring the solo skippers reach the Galician turning mark in the best possible shape, rested and with as much energy as possible, will be vital for the 270 miles final sprint to the line.

Published in Figaro

A full Irish breakfast cooked in the early morning by his partner seemed to do the trick for solo sailor Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan) as he made probably his most assured, confident start yet of his La Solitaire du Figaro career. The French-based sailor was fourth to the first mark around a short, but very tricky, tidal coastal course as the 32-boat fleet left Royan at midday Sunday for the final 640 nautical miles stage to Saint Nazaire at the entrance to the Loire estuary.

After five miles Dolan was still fifth as the fleet headed south on a light spinnaker run towards a buoy off Arcachon - just south of Bordeaux, and at 1600hrs local time France Sunday, he was just 0.2 of a mile behind the early leader Guillaume Pirouelle (Region of Normandy).

The first 61 miles leg to the Arcachon mark is followed by a 250 miles sail across the Bay of Biscay to Farallones just by Dijon on the Spanish north coast. From there it is expected to be a fast, hard downwind sail to the final finish line. The Irish skipper was relishing the downwind stage under gennaker as it is his strongest point of sail.

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Ireland’s leading solo offshore racer Tom Dolan, skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan heads into Sunday’s final stage of La Solitaire du Figaro in a formidable fifth place, full of confidence and ready to give it all as he seeks to better the fifth place finish he scored in 2020. He is one hour and one minute behind the race leader France’s Guillaume Pirouelle

The 640 miles courseThe 640 miles course

The 640 miles course, which was confirmed today, takes the 32-strong fleet south from the start line off Royan downwind along the coast to a buoy at Arcachon before heading offshore in light winds to the southernmost turning mark at Farallones, about 80 miles east of La Coruna on the north coast of Spain. From there, it is looking like a very fast, bumpy downwind ride in 30-35kts to the last finish line of this 53rd edition, at Saint Nazaire, the Loire estuary town where the Irish sailor last year completed his best ever stage finish, third on the last leg.

How do you feel Tom, it has been a brutally tough race over these first two intense legs which have been ‘always on’?

I feel good. Yesterday I was totally done in. I was thinking, ‘I cannot ever remember being this tired’ but today I am OK, really I am. I will have run now and I will be brand new. The shorter legs before were not so hard, finishing on the Wednesday night.

You are in fifth with a good chance of bettering that does that bring more pressure on to you?

There is much less pressure now. I am in the zone. Here I have been hibernating and then I just get back on the boat and into it. The build up is stress, a week of faffing around, interviews and so on and then worrying about performing on the first leg. Once you are on the boat it is easy.

I have already had a good Solitaire. At the start it is ‘what if this turns out to be a shit one?’ Now I can say I have led both legs and have been up the front on both legs and I have been fast and largely done the right things.

What has made the difference so far? It seems the margins between good and not-so-good are tiny.

I feel I have good all-round speed this time, and that makes all the difference. I got my sails late last time and didn’t have the speed I wanted. The boat speed makes the difference because you are not losing brain power on that, you are not rolling around in your bed thinking, ‘shit, why am I so slow?’ so I am happy all round with my boat speed. Every year I feel like I have had a hole somewhere and have been thinking, ‘I am not good….’. And then the weather is good. I love working with Marcel van Trieste. I am a weather geek anyway. He is a revelation to be honest. He is really into the whole general situation and where the highs and the lows are and I like that because you then have a picture in your head of how things are evolving. I go over it, and over it, and over it again, like revising for an exam, you have it all in your head and you are not pulling out notes. You have it impregnated into your brain. You go out knowing what is happening and why the wind is here and there. I did three-quarters of the last race course without looking at his notes once.

"I have a different way of trimming which is top secret"

In the Channel, you were one of the fastest, making up ten places?

That was fun, and it was pure boatspeed. In this game, it is rare to pass people with pure boat speed. That felt nice. That was spinnaker choice. I have a new spinnaker I worked on last year with Gildas (Mahé) for the Transat, and it is a bit different. I have a different way of trimming which is top secret.

Tell us about the course for the third stage?

The course across the Bay of Biscay looks complicated but a fast run back. It will be fairly light and fluky to Arcachon, very complicated, and light and fluky to the mark off Spain and then downwind in 25kts living on energy bars with one gybe. It will be big kite til it explodes then the small one, back in the SW’ly. I think it will be important to be low risk across Biscay; there are big differences in the routing and so potentially big differences arriving at Farallones, you want to be in the right pack at that mark, and then after that, it is downwind boat speed which I am not to bad at all. Whoever doesn’t broach or break things will do best.

And are you thinking now you can win the stage or even overall?

Yes. On the last one, I did not realise I was in the lead until I heard on the safety briefing, and then you start imagining winning, you have in it in your head arriving and champagne and all that, so for sure I have the taste for it, I have everything in place, these other guys are beatable, Tom and Guillaume and so on. At the start, you think of all the boats as dangerous now, I know I can beat them. I need to keep my eye on the game.

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Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan improved on his 12th place on Stage 1 when he crossed the finish line into Royan, France this morning in 5th place on the second stage of La Solitaire du Figaro. The skipper of Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan should move into the top five of the annual French solo race with just the third and final stage to sail, starting Sunday.

After making a spectacular climb back through the fleet, rising from 19th to 8th in a remarkable display of high speed, big winds downwind sailing on Tuesday, Dolan led the fleet yesterday after making a bold move inshore after Belle Ile of the Vendée coast. At one stage he and three other French skippers, were 20 miles to the east of the main peloton. Finding a little extra breeze whilst their rivals were all but becalmed, Dolan led until the early hours of this morning when French rookie escaped at the front of the main group to cross first this morning.

Dolan wins the Vivi Trophy prize (for best performing non-French sailor) for the leg recalled, "Basically it wasn't planned for me to take that option I just wanted to be upwind of the fleet. I had seen on the files that there was more wind to the north, well I had the impression. During the night, the fleet broke up and I lost everyone a bit. I ended up with 2 or 3 boats, I told myself that I was going to stay on this plan and stay with the North-East wind. Overall the leg was a tough one. In strong winds, I spent 14 hours sitting at the helm, it was a bit hard. But I had anticipated well, I had slept well on the upwind leg. When it came, I had my pockets full of protein bars and bottled water and off we went! It was mental, under small spinnaker, incredible. That was the most intense part, it was awesome! I was a little on edge, I hadn't had a long day at the helm like that since the Mini I think. But it was so cool. Otherwise, it was good. The boat goes so fast that it is super stable. Once planning it goes by itself. There was water everywhere, I took some videos. It was crazy! Luckily things calmed down a bit when you arrived near Eddystone, because there are still a lot of rocks, you arrive at 20 knots, it's pretty hot…. But it calmed down for the maneuver!”

He continued: “I said before the start that this stage would be extremely tough and that turned out to be true. I finished the race (so tired I was) having major hallucinations at the helm. Clearly, I ended up burned out. But during the long leg to reach Jersey, I managed to rest well. I only slept, ate, slept, ate to be ready for the rest and I did well because afterwards I spent 14 hours non-stop at the helm under a small spinnaker.”

Dolan and the other 31 solo racers competing on La Solitaire du Figaro now have two and a half days to recover before the final stage starts Sunday 4th of September at midday, a 700 miles race across Biscay to La Coruna (Spain)and back to finish in Saint Nazaire (France).

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French rookie Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie) crossed the finish line off Royan at the mouth of the Gironde estuary at 06:28:26hrs (CEST/FRANCE) in this morning’s breaking dawn to claim victory on the 655 nautical Stage 2 of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro. After Davy Beaudart (Nauty’mor) won the first stage into Port La Forêt, Pirouelle’s is the second consecutive stage win by a rookie skipper.

Pirouelle sailed a perfect mix of fast, controlled off-the-wind surfing between Monday and Tuesday, in the big breezes which prevailed for two Channel crossings, sailing in winds of 30kts and 2m seas from a Channel Islands mark to Eddystone before turning south back down the Brittany and Vendée coasts where the breeze dropped away to leave the fleet with a challenging final 170 miles navigating a network of calms and light airs. He was fifth at the Channel Islands mark and fourth at Eddystone before breaking clear of the peloton yesterday night after the latitude of La Rochelle. Pirouelle was sixth on the first stage.

Before choosing to pursue a career offshore racing, winning the Normandy region talent trials to take over the helm of their Figaro Beneteau 3, Pirouelle, now 28, was one of France’s leading Olympic 470 class helms - including a title as 2015 470 Junior World Champion – before going on to win the Tour Voile in Diam 24s steering for the Beijaflore team.

He was apprenticed last year through the regional support programme to veteran Alexis Loison - who originally scouted the talented young Norman small boat sailor to ask him to consider trying out for the offshore programme. After sailing as co-skipper with Loison last year – including a Transatlanric - Pirouelle’s first season solo immediately highlighted his potential this Spring when he took second in the early season Solo Maitre Coq finishing second to Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne-CMB Performance) and then third in the solo All Mer Cup on his home waters,

A native of Le Havre who is a qualified engineer, Pirouelle shows every sign of following in the wake of Charlie Dalin, who is from the same town and club and is now the dominant IMOCA skipper of the moment, even if as an Optimist fanatical child Pirouelle said ‘never’ when asked if he fancied becoming a Vendée Globe skipper.

At the finish line this morning he was followed 3 minutes and 19 seconds later by Achille Nebout on Amarris Primeo Énergie. Tom Laperche (Bretagne CMB Performance) took the final place on the podium finishing 15 minutes and 48 seconds behind the winner.

Finishing in fifth place, Ireland’s Tom Dolan on Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan was the first non-French sailor to finish. Dolan led the race during yesterday afternoon and into last night after making a bold move inshore. He was on terms with Pirouelle for a long time but dropped places in the early hours to finish fifth. Improving from his 12th on the first stage, the Irish sailor who has a career best of fifth on La Solitaire, will have moved up the general classification.

Guillaume Pirouelle said after finishing: “I’m really pleased and know deep down now that I’m capable of achieving something special, but actually getting there is another thing. I was well placed since the start. We can see that in each leg there are lots of changes in leadership. They catch up from behind. It’s always a bit complicated, but I kept at it until the end and I’m going to have to do that again in the third leg. It’s in my character to want to control what is happening. I don’t like it when people move in from everywhere, but preventing the others from doing what they do is something you can’t achieve. In fact, on the AIS, I couldn’t see what was going on behind me. They all went for their own strategies like in the first leg, except this time, we managed to stay in front, so I’m pleased about that.”

He continued, “I’m someone who thinks a lot and I try to avoid making the same mistakes twice, even if that isn’t easy in our sport, but that is the goal. Two wins for rookies is a good thing. Now we have the third leg to look forward to.I think I slept less than in the first leg. Conditions were stronger, but more random too. As for whether I’m tired, when you finish, it’s always fine. It hits you a few hours later and I think I’m burned out. But we have three days to recover, which is not going to be too many.”

Of his inshore breakaway from the fleet Dolan said, "Basically it wasn't planned for me to to take that option I just wanted to be upwind of the fleet. I had seen on the files that there was more wind to the north, well I had the impression. During the night, the fleet broke up and I lost everyone a bit. I ended up with 2 or 3 boats, I told myself that I was going to stay on this plan and stay with the North-East wind. Overall the leg was a tough one. In strong winds, I spent 14 hours sitting at the helm, it was a bit hard. But I had anticipated well, I had slept well on the upwind leg. When it came, I had my pockets full of protein bars and bottled water and off we went! It was mental, under small spinnaker, incredible. That was the most intense part, it was awesome! I was a little on edge, I hadn't had a long day at the helm like that since the Mini I think. But it was so cool. Otherwise, it was good The boat goes so fast that it is super stable. Once planning it goes by itself. There was water everywhere, I took some videos. It was crazy! Luckily things calmed down a bit when you arrived near Eddystone, because there are still a lot of rocks, you arrive at 20 knots, it's pretty hot….But it calmed down for the manoeuvre!”

“ Sailing alongside Erwan (6th placed Le Draoulec, Skipper MACIF 2020) it was fun because we fought in the strong wind together, we were both side by side and we still found ourselves side by side at the finish. We did years of Mini 6.50 together so it was nice to be stuck with him. Especially since I'm in front this time!”

Dolan concluded, “I was dead, exhausted, like everyone, I think. We never had a break, we had 12 hours of fighting and then straight into the dead calm so it was manoeuvring, changing sails, strategy. And apparently I was first for a long time, I didn't know; I didn't have the classification; I found out this morning during the safety session. It's good to hear that after six hours of mental anguish, I was out leading”.

Leg 2 provisional:
1. Guillaume PIROUELLE - Région Normandie 6:28’26, 3d 17hrs 28mis 26secs.
2. Achille NEBOUT - Amarris Primeo Énergie 6:31’45 3d 17hrs 31mis 45sec, + 3mins 19secs.
3. Tom LAPERCHE - Bretagne CMB Performance - 6:44’14 3d 17hrs 44mins 14sec Time behind the winner: 15mins 48sec.
4. Benoît MARIETTE - Génération Senioriales - 6h 52’10, + 23mins 44 secs.
5. Tom DOLAN – IRL, Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan - 7:19’33, + 51 mins 07 secs.

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