On Sunday, 32 sailors, including 10 newcomers, 6 sailors from outside of France and 5 women, will be lining up at the start of the 54th edition of the Solitaire du Figaro Paprec in Caen. As before each major race, to judge the quality of those taking part, Tip & Shaft questioned a group of experts, including the two most recent winners, Tom Laperche (2022) and Pierre Quiroga (2021), the Spaniard, Pep Costa, who competed in the last two races and remains very close to the circuit, Jeanne Grégoire, head of the Finistère ocean racing training centre in Port-la-Forêt, Julien Pulvé, former coach at the La Rochelle training centre and Yann Chateau, the Race Director of the Solitaire.
Our experts had a tough job on their hands choosing the three top skippers, with the podium places likely to be fought out between Alexis Loison, Corentin Horeau and Guillaume Pirouelle, the first behind the two others with a very small margin.
When he crosses the start line on Sunday, Alexis Loison, 39 years of age, (Groupe Réel), will be taking part in his 17th Solitaire. “An experienced sailor, who has passed a lot on to Guillaume Pirouelle, with whom he sailed double-handed in 2021,” explained Julien Pulvé, another former Solitaire racer. His strong points? “Alexis is very strong when sailing in currents,” stressed Yann Chateau, which was confirmed by Tom Laperche: “He is the ruler in this area. That’s a key point with currents often creating huge gaps between Figaro racers in the English Channel. Alexis is also a brilliant strategist. When he goes for tactical plays, he often succeeds.”
Pierre Quiroga also praises his “experience and knowledge of the race area” adding that he has “reached the point in his career, where he does it more for the pleasure than the obligation to win, which maybe why he stands out so much.” Anything going against him? “He has a professional career at the same time [with a sailmaker – editor], so various constraints. His project got underway a bit late and may not be as well structured as some of the other teams.”
Duel between Norman sailors
Guillaume Pirouelle, second overall (and top newcomer) in his first Solitaire a year ago, is without doubt one of the competitors who is going to make life tough for his fellow Norman sailor, with whom he has a close connection, as he took over the helm of his Figaro Beneteau 3 Région Normandie, with the pair winning the Tour de Bretagne this season. After that, the former 470 specialist (among other boats) achieved his first solo win this summer in a race in the French Elite offshore championship in the Solo Guy Cotten Concarneau.
“I don’t think it was just luck,” declared Jeanne Grégoire, Head of the Finistère ocean racing centre, where a dozen Figaro racers train, including Guillaume Pirouelle. “He is very consistent and is amazingly calm, keeping his emotions under control. These are really important qualities when you want to do well in the Solitaire, and something Tom Laperche was able to do too. What is he lacking? Not much in fact. Maybe he is not quite as relaxed in stronger conditions, but even that is not certain.”
Our experts had a lot of superlatives when describing the 29-year old sailor from Rouen. Pep Costa talked about “a supernatural talent”, while Yann Chateau praised “his hard work”, and Julien Pulvé spoke of his temperament “always so calm and relaxed” and his “mental determination”. Finally, Pierre Quiroga wondered if “his weakness may be taking it too easy: when sailing fast, his approach is ‘I don’t take any risks and stick in the middle.’”
“Can Corentin keep it up throughout?”
Another name for the podium was Corentin Horeau, 34, winner of the Solo Maître CoQ at the start of the season and second in late July in the Solo Guy Cotten. “His season got off to a very good start,” added Yann Chateau. “But last year he didn’t do that well in the Solitaire. The question remains: was it just bad luck? Was it due to the tiredness that had built up over the season? Or was it down to the format of the Solitaire, which was longer with legs of around 600 miles instead of the 400 miles in the pre-season races?”
Similar questions were raised about Julien Pulvé: “He is of course a fantastic racer, but can he keep it up throughout?” Pierre Quiroga pointed out one of his weaknesses: “His major enemy is himself and he knows that. We have more or less the same blood in our veins. It’s down to his personality. That can be his downfall in certain situations.”
Jeanne Grégoire believes however that the sailor from La Trinité-sur-Mer can rely on his wealth of experience: “He has been through a wide range of fleets with a lot of different types of racing, which has opened up his outlook. It means he is not surprised when things happen and the memories linger for a long time on his mind and when racing, that is something you can draw on. Technically he is the master.” Pep Costa considers that whith Banque Populaire with banque populaire successor in the mid-season to Mutuelle Bleue, “Corentin has the perfect sponsor, that meant that he was able to feel relaxed when he arrived. That is all it took for him to be able to make the most of all his talent.”
“Ten have a strong chance
of making it to the podium!”
The list of favourites drawn up by the experts does not end there. According to Yann Chateau, “there are around ten who have a strong chance of making it to the podium!” Among them, Gaston Morvan, who succeeded Tom Laperche on the Figaro 3, Région Bretagne-CMB Performance who for Jeanne Grégoire, “has what it takes to do well. He just needs to be consistent and keep performing well.”
The Head of the Finistère centre also came up with the name of Loïs Berrehar (Skipper Macif 2022), winner of the Transat Paprec in 2023 with Charlotte Yven: “Technically, he is very good and this year, he has really worked hard.” Tom Laperche, who often sailed with him in Port-la-Forêt, believes that “when conditions are right, he is certainly one of the fastest.”
Among some of the other names that cropped up for a place on the podium are Charlotte Yven (Skipper Macif 2023), Tom Dolan (Smurfit Kappa – Kingspan) and Elodie Bonafous, (Quéguiner-La Vie en Rose), eighth a year ago with in particular third place in the final leg. “She is just so strong!” admired Pep Costa, who sailed with the 28 year old sailor in the Tour de Bretagne this summer. “She has the talent to be able to sail her boat quickly and is at ease with the project and never gives up. She could quite easily make it to the podium!” Julien Pulvé added: “Elodie has shown several times that she never gives an inch and is one of the strong outsiders!”
Basile Bourgnon (Edenred), third in the Solo Guy Cotten Concarneau, is also one of the leading outsiders chosen by our experts. “He likes to play around with a gap moving away from the other competitors. He never hesitates to go for an option,” explained Yann Chateau. What about the newcomers?Hugo Dhallenne (YC de Saint-Lunaire), winner of the last Mini Transat in the series category and sixth in the recent Solo Guy Cotten Concarneau, has the vote of all our experts.
The podium according to our experts: 1. Alexis Loison (Groupe Réel), 2. Guillaume Pirouelle (Région Normandie), 3. Corentin Horeau (Banque Populaire)
Photo: Jean-Marie Liot