Le pôle Finistèrecourse au large de Port-la-Forêt

How the Finistère Course au large Pole has turned a new page

The retirement last summer of long time supremo Christian Le Pape marked something of a turning point in the history of the Pôle Finistère at Port-la-Forêt, the famous race training centre that he founded in the early 1990s. For Jeanne Grégoire, the new director, and Erwan Tabarly, coach, they are really now having to step up the offering in the face of constantly increasing and improving race centres which are in competition with Pôle Finistère.

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”

The organisation relies on a budget of “around 1.2-1.3 million euros”, according to Jeanne Grégoire. That covers operating costs, as well as the 900,000 euros devoted to the Bretagne-Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne talent development sector, managed by the cluster, i.e “3 skippers [Tom Laperche, Gaston Morvan and Chloé Le Bars this year, editor’s note], 2 preparateurs and 3 boats”, which they own. This budget is mainly provided by the Finistère departmental council, the Community of Communes of the Fouesnant area, the French Sailing Federation and, to support the Excellence Bretagne-CMB program, the Brittany region and the Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne banking group.

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

Experience is particularly valuable to skippers in the Figaro, the class which was at the origin of the creation of the centre, even if the number of skippers is follows a downward trend, like that of those actually racing in the Solitaire du Figaro – 34 on the last edition, the lowest total for more than 20 years. In total only 10 Figaro riders are signed up with the pole this season – there have been up to 17 in some years. Two or three more might join if they manage to find funding. The oldest in the group is Corentin Horeau (32), the youngest Basile Bourgnon (19), proof of the emergence of “a new cycle”, according to Erwan Tabarly who adds: “Those of my generation have left but the young people who arrive have much more technical knowledge and already have good race experience.”

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

Aware of the need to strengthen the appeal of Port-la-Forêt and to avoid the talent moving elsewhere, local stakeholders are also showing their support“You have to be careful, there is a tool to go on with to ensure continuity, we are at a crossroads”, explained Alain Legrand, departmental councilor for Finistère, in Le Télégramme this week, before mentioning large investments (around 4 million euros) over the next few years”. In the same article, Frédéric Boccou, director of the Port-La-Forêt management company, announced for his part “the reconstruction of the work area, the transformation of the car parks  and the construction of buildings for racing teams.”

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

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