Synonymous with the structure he led for 30 years, Christian Le Pape left office on June 1 before officially retiring on October 1. “I wasn’t fed up, it wasn’t things had turned sour I just did not want to work the full season,” he told Tip & Shaft. Le Pape’s departure came three years after that of another historical figure, Loïc Ponceau who was coach at the pole since its creation. He was originally replaced by Jeanne Grégoire. So with the historical pair now retired, and Grégoire and Tabarly now in place things are moving forwards apace.
Succeeding Christian Le Pape proved to be a real challenge for Jeanne Gregoire, the new centre director. “He made the whole place grow and develop and at the same time he grew with the pole. He had knowledge of all the different areas and had the intellectual capacity to be everywhere. We have been working for more than a year on a gradual transition with Christian, both on the sporting and administrative aspects,” explains Grégoire. She continues to support training on the water as Christian Le Pape did but now really focuses primarily on administration and training, whilst Erwan Tabarly is “more focused on the sporting aspects and support for skippers.”
The rest of the team is made up of Catherine Hénaff, for the administrative and accounting work, as well as external service providers: Ronan Martin for the physical preparation, Nicolas Lunven, already working through the preparation for the Transat Jacques Vabre, will focus this year on weather strategy and routing, while Yann Eliès, who is preparing for a State diploma in order to become a coach, supports Erwan Tabarly during the training courses.
Valuable support also comes from a few name alumni including Vincent Riou, Jean-Luc Nélias and Armel Le Cléac’h, who were elected to the office of the association at the end of September, while Lunven is part of the board of directors. “The main thing is to consider and deliver future developments in order to remain the de facto benchmark in offshore racing“, comments Armel Le Cléac’h, now attached to a structure he joined in 2000.
“There is no more continuity from the State”
On the other hand, Jeanne Grégoire’s salary is not covered by the State, as was the case for Christian Le Pape, who was attached to the departmental directorate of Youth and Sports, and therefore as such was a public service executive. “The regret is that there is no longer any continuity from the state”, underlines this latter. “Because there really is the absence of a civil servant motivated by this position”. Jeanne Grégoire adds: “It is also because the focus of the French National Sports Agency is to favor the Olympic disciplines as 2024 approaches”.
“In terms of skills and positioning, the new team compares very favourably to the previous one”, specifies Christian Le Pape especially as now it relies on two former professional skippers who trained there. “There needed to be an increased knowledge of what sailors actually go through and endure. It is a position that requires authenticity with the skippers.” explains Jeanne Grégoire. Erwan Tabarly adds: “The training sessions are very specific. As sailors, we speak the same language, we are better able to listen to and interpret expectations and the problems encountered by the racers. Even if the boats evolve, the races remain the same, hence the need to have acquired experience.”
Increased competition from Lorient
With the Imoca, training will begin in two months, with the Route du Rhum on the horizon. There are 14 participating Imoca skippers. “We are not worried about Lorient,” underlines Jeanne Grégoire when asked about the competition from Lorient where many of the teams are today. The Paprec Arkéa (Yoann Richomme) and Fortinet-Best Western (Romain Attanasio) teams have joined the Lorient even if they will continue training at ‘Port Laf’. Port-La-Forêt is home to the projects of Benjamin Ferré and Violette Dorange (managed by Jean Le Cam), Sébastien Marsset, the Chinese Jingkun Xu, and “a new boat will arrive this summer”, says Jeanne Grégoire.
Three training courses should also be organized this year for the Ultims in Port-la-Forêt. Armel Le Cléac’h who was based in Lorient for years with Banque Populaire adds: “Even if the Pole retains many assets, one of the challenges will be to remain attractive so that teams settle, stay put and work there. It is a know-how that must continue to be optimized.”
Opening up to Class40s
At the Pole for the first time, Class40 training will be offered this year. “Racers like Martin Le Pape and Corentin Douguet have switched to 40 footers and we want to continue to support them”, confirms Erwan Tabarly. “The Route du Rhum is a big goal now for the class and its development seems relevant to us.” Now with Yoann Richomme’s Class40 project, there should be at least three boats making up this new training group, even if their program has not yet been defined.
Jeanne Grégoire also mentions “a possible link up with Tanguy Leglatin“, a historical figure from Lorient, where he has been training skippers in the Mini, Figaro, Class40 and Imoca classes since the mid-2000s. “For the moment, it is still in the state of discussion, we have not gone further than the chat”, concludes Grégoire.
Photo: Alexis Courcoux