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Le Cléac'h wins Vendée Globe race in 74 days

French skipper Armel Le Cleac'h at the finish line of the Vendée Globe, Les Sables d'Olonne Damien Meyer/AFP

French skipper Armel Le Cléac'h won the seventh Vendée Globe solo round the world yacht race on Thursday.

The 39-year-old got the better of his titanic duel with British rival Alex Thomson to cross the finish line at Les Sables d'Olonne at 3.37pm (GMT) after 74 days, three hours, 35 minutes and 46 seconds at sea.

Le Cléac'h smashed the previous record set by his compatriot François Gabart in 2013 of 78 days 2hr 16 min by almost four days.

Thomson, Le Cléac'h's main rival since the maritime odyssey began on November 6, is expected to arrive at the France Atlantic coast port later Thursday over 100 nautical miles behind.

Le Cléac'h's state-of-the-art Banque Populaire yacht was accompanied on its triumphant return by a flotilla of dozens of small boats with a helicopter beaming live television pictures hovering overhead.

A crowd estimated at around 350,000 was waiting in icy but sunny conditions to accord the jubilant but exhausted navigator a hero's welcome on dry land.

Le Cléac'h, who has led the gruelling race for the last month and a half, was tasting Vendee Globe glory for the first time after finishing runner-up in the last two editions.

While Le Cléac'h was savouring finally ascending sailing's 'Everest' Thomson, dogged by mechanical problems on his Hugo Boss boat, will have to wait another four years for a fresh tilt at becoming the first non-French winner of the Vendee Globe.

Le Cléac'h became the seventh winner of the coveted event first staged 28 years ago.