Vendée Globe

Vendée Globe: Two unfortunates and an inflexible president

On Tuesday 2nd July, SAEM Vendée announced the list of the 40 sailors who will be taking part in the tenth edition of the Vendée Globe. The wild card available to the organiser has been awarded to the best-placed skipper in the race for miles, with Oliver Heer, James Harayda and François Guiffant remaining alongside. This has led Imoca skippers to mobilise on their behalf, to no avail for the time being.

Last Tuesday, SAEM Vendée delivered its verdict and unveiled the list of 40 sailors who, on November 10, will be lining up at the start of the Vendée Globe 2024. The main announcement awaited (see our article) was that of the recipient of the famous wild card available to the organiser: the latter chose to award it to Oliver Heer, the best-placed sailor in the selection table, bypassing the British James Harayda and François Guiffant.

“I waited until the last minute to make my decision, because I wanted to listen and understand before making up my mind,” explained to Tip & Shaft Alain Leboeuf, chairman of the Vendée County Council and SAEM Vendée. “In the end, of the three equally deserving sailors, I couldn’t see any reason why I should have put one ahead of the other. So I decided to respect the sporting ranking of the 42 skippers.”

This decision has obviously delighted Oliver Heer who, a week after being cleared by The Transat CIC jury of any suspicions of assistance, has validated his ticket for his first Vendée Globe. “If I had to use just one word to describe my feelings today, it would be relief,” confided the Swiss sailor (read his interview below). “I was convinced that I would get the wild card because I was at the top of the selection table, but you never know until you actually know so it was a big big relief.”


The disappointment
of François Guiffant


This decision to refer to the selection table proved fatal for James Harayda, who was just 300 miles ahead of Oliver Heer – the Briton, who we were unable to contact, expressed his disappointment on his Facebook account – and François Guiffant, who was in 42nd place in the rankings – as a reminder, he had been granted an exemption to follow the qualification and selection course, as his boat had been built before the January 2005 deadline.

Contacted on Thursday, the skipper of Partage found it hard to hide his disappointment: I’m especially disappointed that I wasn’t able to explain myself to SAEM Vendée. I tried to get in touch with them and with the DC (race directors) to present my case to them. In particular, I wanted to explain to them why I hadn’t taken part in the New York Vendée, which counted as one and a half in terms of the number of miles, because in the end, I sailed more miles than Oliver and James. I think I was regular enough, with the means I had, to do as many races as I could. Above all, I’ve always fought for 42 of us to get in.

The Bigouden sailor added: I’ve never had any response to my requests. I think that when you take a decision which is the result of two and a half years of effort, it’s good to meet people. I told myself that if they didn’t reply, it was perhaps because they were going to announce some good news, and in the end, I found out like everyone else from the press conference, I thought it lacked a little delicacy.”


Tanguy Le Turquais
mobilises the skippers


Since then, François Guiffant has been able to talk to the Vendée Globe general manager, Laura Le Goff, to whom he once again tried to explain his arguments. “I told her that I agreed to come at the last minute, to go to the fishing port if there was no room, but also that I wouldn’t have any other opportunities. James (Harayda) is also very disappointed, but he’s 26 and may be able to do the Vendée Globe in the future, whereas I’m 50. I understand that there are rules, but you can always make amendments.

Determined to play his card to the bitter end, the man who previously worked as a préparateur for Jérémie Beyou and Vincent Riou (among others), sent an open letter to Alain Leboeuf on Thursday to try and change his position: I’m throwing my last forces into the battle, I know that James is also fighting on his side.” The two sailors also benefit from the support of some of the Imoca skippers. Some of them had signed and relayed a petition launched last week “so that the 42 skippers qualified for the Vendée Globe 2024 are at the start”. Since Tuesday’s announcement, they have continued to mobilise on the initiative of Tanguy Le Turquais who, on Wednesday, sent an email to the 40 skippers to, as he explains, “ask them whether or not they wanted the organisation to open up two extra places for Fanch and James”.

Before adding: “I don’t know all the ins and outs that led to this 40 limit, I don’t see the whole spectrum of the decision and I know that the rules are made to be respected, but I just wonder if we can’t try to get an exemption for these two sailors who have fought for three years and finished a large number of races”.


Alain Leboeuf
refuses to expand


On Friday, of the 27 skippers who replied to Tanguy Le Turquais’ email, 26 agreed to extend the limit to 42. Tanguy Le Turquais intends to send the results of the survey to SAEM Vendée on Monday. “There’s no desire to put pressure on them, we just want to give them our point of view. Because in fact, we don’t know why it’s stuck at 40. Is it for reasons of space in the harbour, safety, respecting the wishes of the skippers? If it’s the latter, we want to tell them that the majority of skippers are in favour of Fanch and James being at the start.”

What does Alain Leboeuf think of these initiatives? “I understand that people are disappointed, that they want to support them, and I too am heartbroken to see these two very deserving skippers sidelined, but 40 is 40. It’s a rule that has been thought through and accepted by everyone, including the Imoca class and those who are signing the petitions today. I want to set an example by respecting the rules agreed by everyone. It’s like the Olympic Games, not everyone can go, there are selections, and you can’t change the rules.”

Responding to Tanguy Le Turquais’ questions about the limit of 40, the Vendée Globe President explained: “When we thought about it, everyone agreed that it was the maximum number, firstly to ensure the safety of everyone, secondly, so that each skipper and their sponsors could have a clear visibility, and finally to avoid going overboard, which would be detrimental to the environmental image that the Vendée Globe wants to convey. Because if you ask me for 42 this time, you’ll ask me for 45 the next time, 50 and 60 the next. Right now, it’s 40 in 2024, 2028 and 2032.”

In other words, the door appears to be closed to an extension, and unless a competitor withdraws – “before 12 September, one week before the skippers are presented in Paris”, explains Alain Leboeuf – neither James Harayda nor François Guiffant will set off from Les Sables d’Olonne on 10 November.

When asked about possible changes to the rules with a view to the 2028 edition, the President of SAEM Vendée finally replied: “For me, the rules are so well adapted that I was prepared to copy and paste them. Between the maternity issue raised by Clarisse [Crémer] and possible stoppages due to injury, we’re going to make a few minor adjustments, but we’re going to stick to the idea of qualifying and selection. I’ve promised that the new rules will be announced before the village opens on 19 October.

Photo: Jean-Louis Carli / Alea

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