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A Record Setting Race.

Alex Thomson’s epic battle with the elements: a review of the ultimate racing challenge.
Photo: Alex Thomson Racing/Lloyd Images

Tackling the “Everest of the seas”.

Looking for an easy challenge? Then you had better give the Vendee Globe a wide berth. The race, often dubbed the “Everest of the seas” is a battle of superlatives and Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador Alex Thomson decided to accept the challenge for the fourth time. Defying all odds, Alex Thomson finished a close second with a wounded boat, smashing a 24 hour world record in the process and setting three race records.

Photo: Alex Thomson Racing/Lloyd Images
Photo: Oliver Blanchet

In less than 80 days around the world.

On November 6th 2016, 29 intrepid skippers left the channel of Les Sable d’Olonne on the west coast of France to circumnavigate the globe, single handed. Among these exceptional, extreme mariners, was the only British entrant Alex Thomson. With three Vendee Globe participations under his belt, including a third place podium position in the last edition of the race, Alex Thomson set himself the ambitious goal to become the first non-French winner of the Vendee Globe.

The race of all races for offshore sailors, fewer than 100 of the fearless sailors who have braved the race since its inception in 1989 have completed the around the world, non-stop, no assistance, solo sailing challenge. Heralding the race as the “toughest sporting event left in the world”.

Few dare to start, even fewer finish.

It can be hard to fathom for those on looking this race, whatever happens, you’re completely on your own, battling the elements. The rules stipulate that you cannot step foot on dry land or have any outside assistance. There is nothing between you and the endless expanse of the ocean other than your trusty vessel. The race requires skill, iron will and nerves of steel. Alone at sea, even the best-laid plans can be shattered by a change of the world’s tricky seas.

Photo: Alex Thomson Racing/Cleo Barnham

Video.

Less than two weeks into the race and after a daring gamble which saw him cut through the Cape Verde Islands while the rest of the fleet sailed around, Thomson and his sleek craft took the lead, only to face a potentially race ending setback on day 13 on his descent through the South Atlantic.

Thomson hit an unidentified floating object, resulting in the loss of his starboard foil, which could have compromised his race. Thomson commented on the loss of his foil, “A terrible, terrible day, I woke up to a loud bang. There were dark times ahead”.

Photo: Alex Thomson Racing/Cleo Barnham

Dramatic setback and mid-sea save.

For others this would have spelled the end but Thomson continued to race for first place despite his potentially race stopping setback. Leading the fleet, Thomson travelled passed the famous Cape of Good Hope setting a new race record for fastest crossing from Les Sable d’Olonne. “I worked really hard on my mental preparation to have the right coping mechanism in place. You need to be a positive, can-do person to persevere in these conditions.”

Photo: Alex Thomson Racing/Lloyd Images

Stunning sprint to the finish.

Thomson turned the rest of the race into a breath taking cat-and-mouse chase with French Skipper, Armel le Cleac’h.

After falling behind in the Southern Ocean due to the boats speed deficit on port tack, the Brit doggedly cut the distance between the two boats from over 800 nautical miles to a mere 40, after rounding Cape Horn on Christmas day.

Thomson carried on fighting, chasing the leader, smashing the 24 hour world record on his desent back up the Atlantic to the French coast.

With the damage to his foil, Thomson outperformed all expectations using his skill and experience to remain in contention throughout the race.

Setting course for success.

After 74 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes at sea, Alex Thomson crossed the finish line and arrived back in the finish port of Les Sable d’Olonne, where he was greeted in the famous channel by thousands of well-wishers lining the banks.

While his vessel suffered at sea, our hero seemed never better. Despite the adulation of those on looking his return, Thomson headed straight to the family he had not seen for almost three months.

Photo: Vincent Curutchet / DPPI / Vendee Globe

Thomson couldn’t believe he had finally made it, managing to shave 6 days off his time from the previous edition of the race and becoming the fastest Brit to ever sail solo around the world.

“In our sport, challenges do not get any tougher, so this is a moment I will never forget. Third last time, second this time, to complete the story it is obvious what we need to do next.”

Photo: Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI / Vendee Globe

“Armel is the story, but Alex is the legend”.

Fans of the race showered the “comeback of all comebacks” with heartfelt praise: “Thomson is the epitome of someone who is passionate, driven, engaged, positive, loyal and humble. You had us on the edge of our seats. To achieve such a close second with the performance deficit that the broken foil gave you is nothing short of incredible.”

As one fan put it, “Armel is the story but Alex is the legend”.

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