Tom Dolan has won the ‘rookie’ division on Stage 3 of the ultra-competitive Solitaire du Figaro race after a closely fought contest all the way across the Bay of Biscay.
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The Irish solo sailor crossed the finish line in Saint Gilles Croix de Vie early on Wednesday morning (September 12) after more than three and a half-days of intense boat-on-boat racing to claim 11th place overall in the 36-strong single-handed fleet and the coveted Solitaire first-timer leg trophy.
Dolan – nicknamed L’Irlandais Volant, The Flying Irishman, by the French media – had been as highly placed as fourth during the demanding 440-mile stage from Ria de Muros-Noia in northern Spain, with predominantly light winds producing dramatic gains and losses across the fleet at almost every turn.
With a Stage 3 time of three days, 16 hours, 12 minutes and 10 seconds, Dolan was just two minutes from securing a top-10 finish and less than 15 minutes behind stage winner and overall leader Sebastien Simon, who was racing in his fifth Solitaire du Figaro event.
“The whole thing was more of a big chess game than a race as it was more important to be in the right place and going in the right direction than going fast,” said Dolan shortly after the finish.
“I was happy to finish where I did having stayed in contact the whole time rather than having come up from behind at the finish.
“The whole of the last 24 hours was about getting over to the left as there was a big wind shift coming in from that direction, and getting on the right side of that. It was a bit of a dance – getting to the side but not going too far.
“There was one key moment when we all tacked over and headed for the coast and a good chunk of the fleet overlaid the layline to the finish and lost out.”
Dolan, from Kells in County Meath in the Irish Republic, saw his overall chances of success in the iconic annual event hit early on when damage to his mast forced his retirement from Stage 1. On Stage 2 he demonstrated trademark speed while holding his own with the leading group, before a tactical error rounding Ushant off north western France saw him drop down to 25th place.
“I think I have now shown my real potential, especially after the first two legs which were fairly catastrophic and left some doubt in my head,” he said. “I can go into the final stage with some real confidence as I know I can win a stage now.”
With little time for the solo sailors to rest and reboot, the fourth and final leg of the 2018 Solitaire du Figaro begins on Thursday, September 13th. The 165-mile sprint leg starts and finishes in Saint Gilles Croix de Vie with the fleet racing around both the Ile de Re and Ile-d Yeu.
Dolan will be determined to finish his first ever Solitaire du Figaro with another flourish.
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