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Tom Laperche Wins Takes 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro with Stage 3 Victory

7th September 2022
Tom Laperche Région Bretagne - CMB Performance is the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro winner
Tom Laperche Région Bretagne - CMB Performance is the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro winner Credit: Alexis Courcoux

When French solo skipper Tom Laperche (Région Bretagne – CMB Performance) crossed the finish line off Saint-Nazaire at the entrance to the Loire estuary this blustery Wednesday evening at 18:54:48 hrs local time to win the third and final stage of the 53rd La Solitaire du Figaro  (provisional ranking before jury) he punched the air with delight, knowing that his stage win by a comfortable margin has provisionally secured him the overall title.

With his nearest title rival, Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie), 13 nautical miles behind, the 25-year-old pre-race favourite Laperche soon eclipsed the 14 minutes of time advantage that Pirouelle had held going into this final 640 nautical miles stage which started on Sunday and took the 32 strong fleet across the Bay of Biscay to a mark off Galicia, Los Farallones, before a fast roller coaster downwind back across the Biscay in winds gusting to 40kts at times.

Winner of all three solo events this season leading up to the annual solo racing pinnacle, this three-stage La Solitaire du Figaro, Laperche had finished third in the last two La Solitaires. He first came to prominence in his rookie year when he finished second into Kinsale in June 2019, just 33 minutes behind stage winner Yoann Richomme. A qualified engineer and meticulous technician, Laperche was soon snapped up by Vendée Globe winner Francois Gabart as the co-skipper of his Ultime trimaran.

Laperche was widely tipped to win this year, not least on the strength of these wins in the Solo Maître Coq, the Le Havre All Mer Cup and the Solo Guy Cotten. Although he consistently led the peloton on the first two stages, both times, he was thwarted by outlying groups catching up and passing. Content and with a maturity beyond his years, he was content to bide his time, Laperche was ninth in Etape 1 and third in Etape 2, to start 14 minutes behind Pirouelle, the former 470 Olympic campaigner, who won stage 2 into Port La Foret.

He grew up on the Bay of Quiberon and quickly tasted success in a number of different classes winning the Open Bic world title, a windsurfing world title and in the Open 5.70. As a youngster, through his father, he met great sailors like Laurent Bourgnon, Steve Ravussin, Erwan Le Roux and Thomas Coville before winning the Brittany talent trials, which gave him support since his rookie year of 2019 when the new Figaro Beneteau 3 was launched.

Just as he has often been the first to initiate a key move this race so too yesterday after being one of the most northern boats through a transition in the morning – where Pirouelle separated to the south - he was first to tack SW to the South Farallones mark after a small front crossed. He was able to lead around that mark yesterday evening, perfectly rested and prepared for the heinous, edge of control, 24 hours run back to France.

From here, it was a high-speed, down-hill blast back towards the finish line three miles out from Saint-Nazaire. With average speeds of 13 knots and sustained surfing to 16 and 18kts, the front of the fleet put the pedal-down through turbulent, south-westerly winds and seas of 3.5-4m. But with a lead established immediately after the turn at the Spanish coast all those chasing Laperche could do was to try to beat his boat speed and pray that he would make a mistake that would let them slip past. Laperche, a leading light at the Pole Finistere training group, which produces most La Solitaire winners, he has said several times he feels especially confident at speed and under stress after spending so much time on Gabart’s Ultime. At the moment, he seems like Gabart’s perfect first lieutenant and perhaps in time an heir apparent.

For a large proportion of the leg, his racing and training companion Gaston Morvan (Région Bretagne - CMB Espoir) – last year’s top rookie - was fighting hard to be in a position to pounce, should any opportunity occur. At one stage Morvan was only 3.5 miles behind and matching speeds until 0430hrs this morning when Laperche outsailed him, leaving him to finish second.

Laperche said after the line, “ I can't believe it, considering the names that have won this race this for me is quite incredible. I've been third twice. I've used a lot of energy but this is my best Figaro race. This third leg went really well for me and I think I have won the overall (editor's note: provisional rankings before the jury) because I must have more than a quarter of an hour's lead over Guillaume (Pirouelle), unless he's sailing at 50 knots to get here! Coming back across Biscay went well the whole time in the end the wind wasn't that strong and I didn’t mess up, but I had left a lot of energy to go fast. Things didn't pay off in the first two stages when I was leading the fleet before, but this time it should be good.”

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Ireland & La Solitaire du Figaro

The Solitaire du Figaro, was originally called the course de l’Aurore until 1980, was created in 1970 by Jean-Louis Guillemard and Jean-Michel Barrault.

Half a decade later, the race has created some of France's top offshore sailors, and it celebrated its 50th anniversary with a new boat equipped with foils and almost 50 skippers Including novices, aficionados and six former winners.

The solo multi-stage offshore sailing race is one of the most cherished races in French sailing and one that has had Irish interest stretching back over 20 years due to the number of Irish stopovers, usually the only foreign leg of the French race.

What Irish ports have hosted The Solitaire du Figaro?

The race has previously called to Ireland to the following ports; Dingle, Kinsale, Crosshaven, Howth and Dun Laoghaire.

What Irish sailors have raced The Solitaire du Figaro?

So far there have been seven Irish skippers to participate in La Solitaire du Figaro. 

In 1997, County Kerry's Damian Foxall first tackled the Figaro from Ireland. His win in the Rookie division in DHL gave him the budget to compete again the following year with Barlo Plastics where he won the final leg of the race from Gijon to Concarneau. That same year a second Irish sailor Marcus Hutchinson sailing Bergamotte completed the course in 26th place and third Rookie.

In 2000, Hutchinson of Howth Yacht Club completed the course again with IMPACT, again finishing in the twenties.

In 2006, Paul O’Riain became the third Irish skipper to complete the course.

In 2013, Royal Cork's David Kenefick raised the bar by becoming a top rookie sailor in the race. 

In 2018, for the first time, Ireland had two Irish boats in the offshore race thanks to Tom Dolan and Joan Mulloy who joined the rookie ranks and kept the Irish tricolour flying high in France. Mulloy became the first Irish female to take on the race.

Tom Dolan in Smurfit Kappa competed for his third year in 2020 after a 25th place finish in 2019. Dolan sailed a remarkably consistent series in 2020 and took fifth overall, the best finish by a non-French skipper since 1997 when Switzerland’s Dominique Wavre finished runner up. Dolan wins the VIVI Trophy.

Dolan finished 10th on the first stage, 11th on the second and seventh into Saint Nazaire at the end of the third stage. Stage four was abandoned due to lack of wind. 

Also in 2020, Dun Laoghaire’s Kenneth Rumball became the eleventh Irish sailor to sail the Figaro.

At A Glance – Figaro Race

  • It starts in June or July from a French port.
  • The race is split into four stages varying from year to year, from the length of the French coast and making up a total of around 1,500 to 2,000 nautical miles (1,700 to 2,300 mi; 2,800 to 3,700 km) on average.
  • Over the years the race has lasted between 10 and 13 days at sea.
  • The competitor is alone in the boat, participation is mixed.
  • Since 1990, all boats are of one design.

2023 La Solitaire du Figaro Course

Stage #1 Caen – Kinsale : 610 nautical miles
Departure August 27 (expected arrival August 30)

Stage #2 Kinsale – Baie de Morlaix : 630 nautical miles
Departure September 3 (expected arrival September 6)

Stage #3 Baie de Morlaix – Piriac-sur-Mer : 620 nautical miles
Departure September 10 (expected arrival September 13)

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