On Thursday the Holcim group announced that they have chosen Nicolas Lunven to replace Kevin Escoffier at the helm of the Imoca Holcim-PRB for the 2024 Vendée Globe. The Dutch sailor Rosalin Kuiper will then succeed him for The Ocean Race Europe 2025. Tip & Shaft explains how this decision was made.
Since the “Kevin Escoffier affair” occurred at the beginning of June (see our article), Holcim and PRB, sponsors of Escoffier, kept their counsel, taking refuge in a long silence and firmly rejecting any request for communication on the subject. The Swiss cement giants who, owners of PRB since May 2022, refused to comment on the continuation of the project at the end of The Ocean Race, Holcim-PRB took second place after Benjamin Schwartz was called to take the helm after the withdrawal by Kevin Escoffier.
Finally it was last Thursday morning that a press release broke the silence. It announced that Nicolas Lunven and Rosalin Kuiper were going to take the helm of the Verdier design which was launched in May 2022. Lunven is called on to compete in the Vendée Globe 2024, the ebullient Kuiper accompanying him and then succeeding him in 2025.
Asked by Tip & Shaft Olivier Troussicot, managing director of PRB, agreed to respond by email, whilst he was in Washington for a Holcim group convention. The first question was about the group’s silence following the outbreak of the “Escoffier affair”, he explained: “It is not up to us to comment on allegations as disclosed in the press. The authorities concerned have taken a position and we let them do their work. We don’t have to intervene in these processes. We have no comments to make on this point. We focused on our Imoca Holcim-PRB project.”
“We considered all the possibilities”
Holcim and PRB decided to move forwards by replacing Kevin Escoffier who, specifies Olivier Troussicot, “chose to disembark during the stopover in Aarhus on The Ocean Race”, before adding: “Today, Kevin Escoffier is no longer part of the Holcim-PRB team.”
Did Holcim and their subsidiary PRB consider ending its involvement in Imoca? “We considered all the possibilities, including stopping our sailing sponsorship,” replied the managing director of PRB. “We carried out all the discussions together, with the Holcim teams, we took the necessary time before deciding to continue our commitment to ocean racing.”
This decision, taken “during the summer”, developed into an initiative for a mixed duo to succeed Kevin Escoffier. “We really wanted to propose a project in the form of an ‘expert and a developing talent’. For us it was not a question of bringing in only a skipper for the Vendée Globe, but to build a team and so commit to the longterm”, explains the general director of PRB.
Asked about the choice of Lunven, double winner of the Solitaire du Figaro, who was also navigator aboard Malizia during The Ocean Race alongside… Rosalin Kuiper, he adds: “We immediately thought of Nicolas Lunven. We have known him since he wore our colors during the Transat Jacques Vabre 2019 [second with Kevin Escoffier, Editor’s note]. Imoca boats are extremely sophisticated and there are very few sailors that are capable of sailing them solo around the world. And we knew his desire to do the Vendée Globe. Quickly it became apparent that he was the right person to fulfil the project, especially since he has already accumulated a lot of miles in the ranking of Imoca skippers competing for the Vendée Globe [he actually holds third place in the miles table, a criteria which will be used to decide between candidates for the Vendée Globe if there are more than 40 registered, Editor’s note]. And we know that he was a key element in the success of the Malizia project on The Ocean Race. And Rosalin told us that he was nicknamed “The brain” on board, which says a lot about his abilities.”
Discussions were conducted separately
This choice was made internally and actually Lunven only learned of the decision in his favour late this summer. Asked at the beginning of July about any contact he might have had with Holcim-PRB by Tip & Shaft, he responded: “It’s a very simple answer: I have zero contact with them and I have no information on what the intend to do.” On Thursday morning, he told us: “At the end of The Ocean Race, everyone was coming up to me saying: ‘So, Holcim have called you to take on the project?’ There was so many people insisting that when I had no contact at all I was convinced that it wasn’t going to happen. Then, finally, I got the happy phone call. At first, I tried not to get too carried away, because sometimes we are contacted for projects which ultimately do not come to fruition. But things accelerated and came to fruition at the end of August-beginning of September.”
Lunven’s own decision then was made quickly: “I didn’t hesitate much. I still had a small but complex part to manage with Initiatives Cœur, because I was supposed to participate in the Transat Jacques Vabre with Sam Davies. But they responded positively to the news that I am leaving them to skipper Holcim-PRB”, explains the skipper, who will be replaced by Jack Bouttell aboard Initiatives Cœur.
While discussions were ongoing with Nicolas Lunven, other conversations with Rosalin Kuiper had been initiated by Holcim-PRB, “she’s an inspiring and talented personality”, according to Olivier Troussicot. “The choice of Rosalin does not come from me,” explains Lunven. “It was Holcim who presented me with a project to have two co-skippers until the Vendée Globe, then a sort of handover with Rosalin.”
Tip & Shaft spoke to the 28 year old Dutch sailor who rose to prominence on The Ocean Race. She recalled “The Holcim PRB team contacted me in July. At the start it was not yet very clear, but at as our discussions progressed, the project became clearer and I became more and more enthusiastic because it is a fantastic opportunity for me.”
Objective La Retour A Base
It was only late on this summer that Rosalin Kuiper learned the identity of her co-skipper: “With Nico, we didn’t speak to each other at all. We were approached separately. I didn’t know who would be chosen for the Vendée Globe , I just told them ( Holcim-PRB): “If you don’t have a skipper yet, please talk to Nico! Because he’s fantastic.” They only told me about it at the very end, because, before signing the contract, I really wanted to know. It was obviously very good news, I couldn’t dream of having a better co-skipper than Nico. We spent a lot of time together during The Ocean Race, he is more than a colleague, he has almost become a member of the family, I trust him 100%, I am delighted because I will be able to learn a lot alongside him.”
She, too, made her decision quickly made, she said she took advice from Boris Herrmann and Holly Cova, skipper and team manager of Malizia. “They really encouraged me to accept. I didn’t hesitate for long, I always had the ambition to be part of an offshore racing team or to be skipper of a boat.” At the end of the Vendée Globe she will take over with The Ocean Race Europe in her sights in the summer of 2025, for which she intends to put together “an international and mixed crew”.
Is she looking well ahead to the 2028 Vendée Globe? “For the moment, the objective is The Ocean Race Europe, but perhaps the idea is to discuss doing more races, like The Ocean Race in 2027,” responds Kuiper. “As for the Vendée Globe it’s clearly at the back of my mind, it would be a wonderful opportunity, but it’s still a very long way off.”
Once Holcim-PRB is back in the water the first priority is its delivery to Martinique where it will set off on November 26 on the Retour à La Base, a solo transatlantic race in which Nicolas Lunven absolutely must start to meet the qualification criteria for the Vendée Globe (see our article). “We are not going to participate in the Transat Jacques Vabre, because the timing is too tight. We will try to put the boat in the water in early or mid-October to do some training and fine-tuning sailing. and immediately set off on the delivery,” confides Nicolas Lunven.
With the partners he is also working to put together a new team – which team manager Marine Derrien has just left. The 60-footer is in Port-la-Forêt in a hangar made available by Vincent Riou – who sailed for many years in the colors of PRB.
Photo: Eloi Stichelbaut | PolaRYSE | Team Holcim-PRB