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How the French Youth and Women’s America’s Cup project is structured

OnThursday December 14, the Orient Express Racing Team unveiled the composition of its youth and women’s crews who, in October 2024, will defend the French colors in the Youth and Puig Women’s America’s Cup. Tip & Shaft took the opportunity to take a look at this dual project, supported by Orient Express and L’Oréal.

Launched at the same time as the Orient Express Racing Team challenge at the beginning of February 2023, the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup project is the subject of a tripartite agreement between the French challenger, the French Sailing Federation and the Team France association with one priority for 2023: to select the two crews who, in October 2024, will defend the French colors in Barcelona.

“We began by working out how we were going to organize the selections, trying to correct some of the mistakes of the past, and in particular of the 35th edition in Bermuda, for which a fairly broad call for entries was organized, which made selection difficult due to too many candidates,” explains Louis Romieux vice-president of the Team France association and co-director, with Thibaut Derville, of the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup teams.

The FFVoile and Team France have drawn up an initial list of sailors likely to apply for the project, up to them to send in a complete application file. Once the initial selection process had been completed, 20 young people (including women) and 19 women sailors were invited, from April 13 to 19 at the ENVSN in Quiberon, also a partner, for selections including sailing, physical, theoretical and psychomotor tests, individual interviews.

At the end of the week, two teams of 10 sailors were selected to continue the selection process, which was a busy one from the end of April to the end of November, with training in Quiberon and Barcelona, simulator work, physical tests, individual interviews and regattas on two boats, the ETF26 and the 69F.


Most of those selected
have a dual project


Throughout this period, the candidates were monitored and assessed by an observation committee (comprising members of the challenge, the FFVoile and Team France) which, at the end of November, proposed a final list of the two crews to a selection committee made up of Bruno Dubois, co-director of the Orient Express Racing Team, and Guillaume Chiellino, the Federation’s national technical director. The committee made the final decision, selecting six youngsters (including one female sailor, Lou Mourniac) and seven women – “because the choice was too difficult to make”, says Louis Romieux of the women’s crew. This selection, whose skippers were Enzo Ballanger and Manon Audinet finally endorsed by FFVoile President Jean-Luc Denéchau.

The program now? “We’re going to organize several training courses between Quiberon, where we can sail the Flying Phantom, Birdy Fish and Waszp made available by ENVSN, and Barcelona, with a simulator and first outings on the AC40,” answers the vice-president of Team France. “From May, when the AC75 will be delivered, we’ll have the AC40 100% to ourselves.” At the same time, a youth or women’s team will be lined up for the ETF26 Series and the three 69F circuits 69F Cup: Youth Foiling Gold Cup and Women Foiling Gold Cup.

Are the two teams now 100% dedicated to the Cup project? “No,” answers Louis Romieux“from the beginning, we’ve tried to ensure that everyone can sail on other supports. In general, they have a basic program – it can be Ocean Fifty as for Audrey Ogereau, match racing or Olympic sailing – which we complete with the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup.”

Asked about athlete remuneration, he adds: “It’s a subject we’ve paid a lot of attention to. Right from the start, we drew up a set of rules, which all the candidates adhered to. During the entire selection phase, there was no remuneration; from now on, there is a remuneration system on which we have agreed contractually.”


L’Oréal gets into the game


The sports team is now in full working order, with the project fully integrated into the Orient Express Racing Team challenge, including its financing. Indeed, it was a decisive factor in L’Oréal’s decision to commit to the challenger, as the group’s managing director, Nicolas Hieronimus, explained in September when the partnership was made official: “We are thrilled to be part of the America’s Cup adventure during this historic moment which sees female athletes competing in their own Women’s America’s Cup for the first time, bringing fresh energy and determination to the sport.”

How did the Tricolor challenge manage to snag the global cosmetics giant on its roster? “Paola Amar and Aloïse Retornaz contacted me about a year ago to say they’d like to set up a young women’s project for the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup,” says Stéphane Kandler, co-director of the challenge. “They had managed to approach L’Oréal, which was very interested in the project. At that point, we suggested that they go and get the three trophies together, and they got hooked.”

Although the directors could not be contacted for this article, several factors explain the group’s arrival on the Coupe project – validated before last summer -, already involved in Imoca racing with Paul Meilhat via the Biotherm brand. The women’s project was a decisive factor, as it enabled L’Oréal to reach its target group; the youth team, with major recruitment challenges, but also, as we were told internally, “‘the technology aspect: the future of beauty will be played out on ‘beauty tech’, and the group wants to speak out on this subject”.

Ambitions for victory


L’Oréal’s investment, which the group does not wish to disclose, is on a dual level, as it is a title co-partner of the youth and women’s team and an official partner of the Orient Express Racing Team. According to Stéphane Kandler, two other companies are about to join the ranks of official partners – second rank after title partner, occupied by Orient Express, the Accor group’s luxury brand – “Two partners will be announced at the beginning of the year, other emblematic brands that the French know well.”

The co-director of the French challenger, who points out in passing that a position as official partner is still available, adds: The Youth and Women’s America’s Cup represent enormous leverage when it comes to brands, especially as it’s the first time that an event of this scale has organized its final phases for youth, women and seniors in the same place and at the same time. They’re not separate events with less visibility, they’ll have the same media exposure, and that appeals enormously to sponsors.”

And so it will enable the French challenge to present a competitive and ambitious team in October 2024. This is confirmed by Louis Romieux: “On both these projects, we have always been leaders compared to our competitors, notably by being the first to organize trials and to register on other flying circuits. What’s more, we’ve demonstrated our performance by winning this year’s Youth Foiling Gold Cup in 69F, so we’ve got a real chance of winning in 2024.”

Photo: Alexander Champy-McLean / Orient Express Racing Team

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