Cool determination
A couple of days away from the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre in which Gitana 11 will for the first time be favourite, Lionel Lemonchois and his co-skipper Yann Guichard could be forgiven if they were feeling the heat somewhat. But far from it: the Route du Rhum winner is displaying genuine serenity and evident delight at once again being on his favourite playground at the helm of one of the two boats being entered by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild in this transatlantic race between Le Havre and Salvador de Bahia. Both similarly reserved characters, Lionel Lemonchois and Yann Guichard require few words to express the happy harmony prevalent between them on the eve of the race.

With 48 hours or so to go before the off, Gitana 11 skipper Lionel Lemonchois and his co-skipper Yann Guichard answered a few questions for us.

What are the boat's advantages?

We both know Gitana 11 inside out. After all, I won the Route du Rhum with her and Yann helped bring her home second in the Transat Jacques Vabre two years ago. There are lighter boats around, but she's a real sea-going vessel with nothing left to prove. She's very fast, whether reaching or wind abeam with gennaker up. When you win a race like the Rhum and at that kind of pace, you know what to expect from your boat and so can't help being confident. If we don't win this race, we won't just be to blame it on the boat, that's for sure.

Can you talk a bit about your partnership?

We have the same style of sailing, the same reactions at sea, and the same way of looking at things. We know that once the start is sounded, we'll both do our utmost to exploit every last bit of the boat's potential. We'll be giving it our all and will never let the pace slacken. We don't need to say much to understand each other. We've got great trust in each other and that helps us both to excel ourselves. In terms of the details of our life together on board, it's our first experience as a pair so I'll tell you more at the finish …

What about your rivals?

They're formidable and highly determined. They're all really talented sailors who are sure to be watching out for us! During the Route du Rhum, which is a solo race, some of them were perhaps reluctant to take excessive risks, but this double-handed race will be a different story altogether, as you always feel stronger psychologically when there are two of you. But in any case, we're not afraid of anyone.

Does the weather forecast strike you as favourable?

For the opening days, the outlook according to the third man in our adventure, meteorologist Sylvain Mondon, is quite good. The start and the exit from the Channel risk being very fast with 15-knot north-easterly to East winds abeam, which is pretty encouraging. After that, the picture looks a bit more complicated, but it's still too early to be certain of the conditions awaiting us. One thing is for sure: as well as sailing well, we're going to have to keep our wits about us all the way.

Lionel: you won the 2006 Route du Rhum and also the last Transat Jacques Vabre… How are you feeling with the start two days away?

I feel relaxed. Of course I'm aware of everyone's expectations, but I'm also buoyed by all the people supporting us. To be honest, I can't wait to get going now!

Follow the race live from 13:02 on Saturday 3 November, courtesy of regular updates and a detailed cartography.

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