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Battle weary Thomson eyes fifth Vendee Globe campaign

Battle weary Thomson eyes fifth Vendee Globe campaign

It’s only a few days ago that British sailor Alex Thomson finished a gruelling non-stop circumnavigation of the world but he has already confirmed his intention to take part in the next edition of the Vendee Globe in four years’ time.

Thomson placed second in the 24,000-mile race around the world behind Frenchman, Armel Le Cléac’h. Both skippers were on hand on Monday in the French seaside town Les Sables D’Olonne to congratulate third placed Jérémie Beyou who crossed the finish line two hours after sunset.

The Vendee Globe is a singlehanded race so the focus is rightly mostly on the skippers whose feats of endurance captivate a huge global audience for months on end. According to Thomson, however, mounting a campaign capable of winning requires the commitment of a large team of individuals. 

“What I need to do is to have a competitive campaign to do it again and the level of commitment from my family, from my team, from my team's families. The most important thing is the people and the very next thing is the funding.” 

Living in the cramped and bumpy conditions on board his Hugo Boss backed IMOCA 60 has taken a terrible toll on Thomson’s body that will likely require an extended period of rehabilitation.  

“It takes a few months to recover,” he says. “I will be a few months in the gym. My gluteus maximus has turned to a ‘gluteus minimus”. I have got no quadriceps muscles any more. I am in pain walking around. Physically it is going to be lot of work.”

Asked about the future of the Vendee Globe Thomson said he hoped it would remain ‘open and inclusive” and continue to attract “amazing characters” like Rich Wilson, Enda O’Coineen, Sébastien Destremau and Nandor Fa. 

Le Cléac’h, Thomson and Beyou all used new generation foiling daggerboards that helped them to a record-breaking pace around the world. Both Thomson and Le Cléac’h finished days inside the 78-day benchmark set by Francois Gabart in the previous edition. Beyou was just hours outside Gabart’s time.

Thomson, who has handicapped by breaking his starboard foil just weeks into the race, believes there should be no retreat from the foiling strategy for the next race. There was, he said, still plenty of room for further development of IMOCA foiling systems.  

“We have just scratched the surface,” Thomson said. “The foils on our boat and those on Banque Populaire are slightly different. We were slightly better downwind but we were not so good in other areas. It was not a golden ticket.”

With some foil packages costing upwards of €300,000 Thomson says the IMOCA Class management needed to be careful to manage campaign costs and balance safety considerations. 

“I think we need to be careful not to have a rule which makes what we do quite inefficient and very expensive,” he said. “Like the America's Cup. When they designed the boats, they did not want them to foil, but Team New Zealand found how to make them foil, but in a very inefficient and almost dangerous way.” 

“We don't want the gap between the well-funded teams and the other teams to be too big. There is a lot of work to do.”

Happily, all three of the podium placed skippers in the 2016-17 Vendee Globe sit on the IMOCA executive committee which will meet in April to discuss the rules for the next edition in 2020.

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