In mid-October Alex Thomson (pictured right) bid farewell to his home base of Gosport, Hampshire to make his way to Les Sables-d’Olonne, the French town hosting the start of the Vendée Globe race.
Departing on board his 60ft IMOCA racing yacht HUGO BOSS, Alex, accompanied by a small crew, left the UK to make the 600nm journey to western France. Alex arrived as one of the favourites for this year’s race, a gruelling challenge which will see 33 skippers race on their own, non-stop, without assistance for 28,000nm around the world.
The race, which takes place every four years, has only ever been won by a French sailor and is widely regarded as one of the toughest sporting challenges, pushing sailors to their absolute limits both mentally and physically.
In the past two editions of the race, Alex has shown himself to be a significant threat to his French rivals, securing third and second place finishes in 2013 and 2017 respectively. For the 46-year-old sailor, winning the race would be a lifetime goal realised, and a historic moment for British sport: “This is 20 years of my life. So yes, this is what we have all been waiting for and what we have all been working towards.”
“Of course, the race start will look quite different this time around because of Covid and I feel sad that I will not be able to meet the thousands of fans who show up to support the skippers. That being said, this race is made to be consumed digitally, so I feel excited at the thought of being out there in the middle of the ocean competing against the other skippers, entertaining everyone watching at home. This time around, we will be doing even more to bring people with us on the journey as I race, so that they feel like they are on board experiencing the highs and lows with me.
“Obviously the goal is to go out there and win it. But to get there, you have to finish. And this race is very, very tough to finish. But, if we can get to that finish line, then I am sure we will be in contention for the win. A win would certainly validate everything that we as a team, together with our partners, have put into this journey.”
At the opening of the Start Village Yves Auvinet, President of SAEM Vendée, said: “There is real joy for us all today in seeing our 33 skippers, their boats and their teams present here along the Vendée Globe pontoon. Given the health context. It is also a relief the Vendée Globe teams, and the state and health authorities, partners and all the sports projects have worked so hard to make sure the Everest of the Seas runs this year, and for the Vendée Globe to preserve its popular character.”
There was a special moment when the skippers mustered at the top of the race pontoon for the obligatory, safely distanced photocall (pictured left). It was likely to be the one and only time they would all be in the same space at the same time before taking the start.
British sailor Pip Hare (Medallia) said: “All of a sudden you are here and have made the start. Now you have to go on and finish the race. That brings a whole lot of new stress. I want to finish so much. But you look at the reality and the statistics and it is tough to engage with that. But today is a day to enjoy.”
Technical director of Alex Thomson Racing, Ross Daniel, reported: “We were a bit concerned how productive this period would be with the restrictions, and in fact we have got more done. We are in good shape.”
As well as a regular testing regime, ahead of the race start the skippers had to isolate themselves in the company of their chosen ‘bubble’ as skipper confinement was mandatory from 1 November, but many were even stricter than this.
The national lockdown measures announced by the French President on 28 October meant the Race Village was closed to the public from 30 October. As a result the race start took place behind closed doors without local spectators.
Race start: 8 November