The five-man Oman Airports by Oman Sail squad will be hoping to bank early points in the Tour de France a la Voile (TDFV) with a polished performance in the Coastal Raid in Dunkirk, France, this weekend to kick off their 2016 campaign.
After some intensive preparations, which have included a dramatic weight loss programme to lighten and speed up the crew, co-skippers Thierry Douillard (FRA) and Stevie Morrison (GBR) say their team is raring to go and the Coastal Raid on Friday is an ideal introduction to the gruelling three-week event.
“We have done pretty well on coastal races because Thierry is very good with the currents and the routing so we are hoping to make a strong start,” said Morrison, the former British Olympic 49er sailor. A congested start with all 24 boats in the fleet jostling for position on one start line could also work to the advantage of the experienced and enthusiastic squad of Ali Al Balushi and Abdulhaman Al Mashari from Oman and France’s Pierre Leboucher who will rotate with Morrison and Douillard to fill the three spots for each leg.
“It’s a big start with all the boats on one line but we should be ok because we have a fair amount of experience on our boat and although the younger guys on some of the race favourites have been sailing well and creating opportunities, there could be some nerves flying around too,” added Douillard, TDFV winner in 2015 with Spindrift.
Preparations for the TDFV that kicks off in Dunkirk and finishes in Nice, have been ongoing since Spi Ouest France at the end of March, when the Oman Airports by Oman Sail crew first sailed their Diam 24. They have since competed at the Grand Prix Atlantique and the Grand Prix Guyader in April, the Grand Prix Ecole Navale in May and Normandy Sailing Week in early June and have seen considerable improvement according to Douillard. “We have had some good events and improved a lot,” he said.
“We struggled in the light winds at first but we made a few changes – including losing weight – so now have good pace in light winds and very good pace in bigger winds.” Morrison, who alone has lost 5kgs, said the weight loss was an important part of their preparations.
“The Diam 24 is very much a small man’s boat and we have a boat full of men so we were a bit heavy. We have all been on diets – I’ve lost 5kgs – but we’ll soon see if that’s enough.” Good speed is expected to be Oman Airports by Oman Sail’s forte but across the July event, which includes coastal races and nautical stadium races in Dieppe, Roscoff, Golfe Du Morbihan, Roses, Gruissan, Marseille and Hyeres, the focus will be on avoiding errors and staying one step ahead of their younger rivals on the two Team Lorina boats, who have earned ‘favourites’ tag. “It will be a tough Tour de France because there are two or three teams who have been sailing a lot.
These are young guys who have spent their lives sailing and they will be tough to beat,” said Ali Al Balushi, who is setting out on his 6th TDFV and pinning his hopes on a top 10 place in Oman Airports by Oman Sail’s first year on the Diam 24. “The standards will be high and the competition very tight especially between the top 10 boats,” he said. “There are a couple of standout teams who will be very hard to beat, most of them into the second year of their programme.
But beyond that, it is wide open. “We are viewing this as a long term project – it’s not the kind of event you win overnight but we will be doing our best.” Avoiding mistakes will be key to a solid performance added Morrison, who will be making his debut in the TDFV. “Everyone will be very focussed to avoid making a mistake. Every point in every situation where you can win or lose points will be critical. If we start well, we won’t be resting on our laurels and if we start slowly, we will get better. The important thing is to keep on learning.”
The Tour de France a la Voile starts in Dunkirk on July 8 and finishes in Nice on July 31.