Published: Monday, 23 January 2017

The 39-year-old Armel Le Cléac'h from Brittany has sealed the win of Vendee Globe, crossing the finish line at 1537 UTC to complete the course in 74 days, three hours and 35 minutes. He broke the previous record of 78 days, two hours 16 minutes set by French sailor François Gabart in the 2012-13 edition by three days, 22 hours and 41 minutes.

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(Photos: Vincent Curutchet, Jean-Marie-Liot, Olivier Blanchet / DPPI / Vendee Globe - Armel Le Cléac'h)

Dozens of spectator boats took to the water to welcome their new hero back to the French port of Les Sables d'Olonne, from where the race started on Nov 6 last year. With his shore crew taking control of his 60ft IMOCA race boat Banque Populaire VIII, Le Cléac'h was left to enjoy an emotional reunion with his six-year-old son Edgar and nine-year-old daughter Louise. Thousands more fans lined the walls of the town's famous harbour entrance as Le Cléac'h arrived dockside at Port Olona to a fanfare of fireworks.

“This is a dream come true,” says Le Cléac'h. “I hoped to win this race 10 years ago but I finished second. Today is a perfect day. I understand that today I have done something big. My team have been amazing – they're the dream team, and this is their day too.”

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(Banque Populaire VIII)

Le Cléac'h also paid tribute to Alex Thomson for his skill and tenacity in pushing him right to the finish line. “It has been very difficult with Alex behind me, he gave me a really hard time in this Vendée Globe,” he adds. “Each time things went his way and I got nothing. It was stressful because he kept catching me. With a lead of 800 miles off Cape Horn, I didn’t think I’d be facing such pressure. I'm very happy for Alex, it is a great second place.”

Le Cléac'h took the lead within 24 hours of the race start but had lost it to Thomson by the time the Skippers, both racing on new-generation foiling IMOCA 60s, reached the Equator. After catching Thomson in the Southern Ocean, the pair traded places on numerous occasions before Le Cléac'h established a solid lead on Dec 3.

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From that point on he refused to relinquish his grip on first place despite a sensational effort from Thomson to reduce an 819nm deficit at Cape Horn to just 50 miles at the Equator. Even when Thomson surged to within 30 miles of Le Cléac'h with a few hundred miles to go, the French sailor held strong, defending his position until victory was all but guaranteed.

Le Cléac'h averaged an incredible 15.43 knots of boat speed over the 27,455 miles he actually sailed, on occasion hitting speeds in excess of 30 knots. His best 24-hour run came on Jan16 when Banque Populaire covered 524.11nm averaging 21.8 knots, surpassed only by Thomson who on the same day sailed 536.81nm averaging 22.4 knots, breaking François Gabart's existing record by two miles. Le Cléac'h held the top spot for 56 of his 74 days at sea, and between him and Thomson they broke every existing race record.

Le Clach Smashes Vende Globe Race Record

(Alex Thomson)

The 42-year-old Thomson crossed the finish line of the race in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, at 0737hrs UTC on Jan 20 on his 60ft racing yacht Hugo Boss. He was 15h 59min 29s behind Le Cléac'h. Thomson covered 27,636 nm averaging 15.39 knots knots during the race.

It is the second time in four attempts that Thomson has finished on the Vendée Globe podium – he took third place in the 2012-13 edition after being forced to retire from the 2004-05 and 2008-09 races. The result makes him the most successful non-French Skipper in the history of the race. In the 2001 race, British yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur finished in second place taking 94 days, four hours and 25 minutes to do so. Sixteen years on Thomson was almost 20 days quicker, a feat made all the more impressive given that one of Hugo Boss' foils providing lift and therefore speed was destroyed just two weeks into the race.

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“It's an amazing feeling to be here – you never really know for sure that it's going to happen until you cross the finish line,” Thomson says. “We've been away a long, long time and it's great to finally be here. I hoped and prayed I could catch Armel but about 24 to 36 hours from the finish I knew that was the end. I've spent the whole race wondering what could have happened if the foil hadn't broken, but it did, and now it's finished. Congratulations to Armel, what a great race he had and he thoroughly deserved to win. I'm very happy with second place. Now I'm looking forward to getting some sleep, seeing my family and having my life back.”

French Skipper Jérémie Beyou is expected to complete the solo round the world race on Jan 23 afternoon, or evening, and secure third place. 

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(Hugo Boss)