Issued on • Modified
France’s Le Cleac'h set for Vendee Globe victory
Armel Le Cleac'h was on Thursday closing in on a first Vendee Globe triumph and a new record for the solo round-the-world yacht after holding off a late challenge by Alex Thomson.
Barring any accidents, Le Cleac'h, who has been leading the pack for a month and a half, should cross the finish line between 1600 and 1900 GMT Thursday according to the race organisers.
The Frenchman was 146 nautical miles from the finish at 0400 GMT Thursday, with second placed Alex Thomson 87.62nm adrift in second.
After almost 74 days of racing both men are destined to shatter Francois Gabart's 2012-2013 record mark of 78 days 2hr 16 min.
Thomson was bidding to become the first non-French winner of the race which started in Les Sables d'Olonne on France's Atlantic coast on November 6.
But his challenge petered out late Wednesday when he was hampered by problems with his automatic pilot on board his Hugo Boss craft.
The Welshman, in a radio link with organisers, had complained of fatigue and was pessimistic about his chances. Asked if he would still win, he said: "I don't think I can... I don't have real options anymore."
Both yachtsmen had to sail past Les Sables d'Olonne toward the English Channel to get a favourable wind to bring them back down the coast faster to the finish line.
"Tell him to stay behind," Le Cleac'h told a French Navy helicopter that flew over his boat and asked whether he had a message for Thomson. The Frenchman has been beaten into second place in the last two Vendee Globe races.
Around 300,000 people packed Les Sables d'Olonne and the nearby coast when the race started with 29 competitors. With such high stakes, big crowds are already gathering in the town for the return.
Vendee Globe standings at 0400 GMT Thursday:
1. Armel Le Cleac'h (FRA/Banque populaire VIII) at 146 nautical miles from the finish
2. Alex Thomson (GBR/Hugo Boss) at 87.62 nautical miles behind leader
3. Jeremie Beyou (FRA/Maitre Coq) at 710.39
4. Yann Elies (FRA/Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir) at 1,915.48
5. Jean Le Cam (FRA/Finistere Mer Vent) at 1,919.57
6. Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA/StMichel-Virbac) at 1,927.67
7. Louis Burton (FRA/Bureau Vallee) at 2,946.6
8. Nandor Fa (HUN/Spirit of Hungary) at 4,546.56
9. Eric Bellion (FRA/CommeUnSeulHomme) at 5,193.11
10. Conrad Colman (NZL/Foresight Natural Energy) at 5,316.53