Who Will Win the Vendée Globe?

Bruce Gain checks in with the Vendée Globe skippers to see how they're sizing up their competition for the solo, around-the-world race.

Jean Pierre Dick

Jean Pierre Dick

Jean Pierre Dick, often touted a favorite to win the race, will sail the Virbac Paprec, one of the newer boats in the fleet.VINCENT CURUTCHET / DPPI

I would not describe it as NBA-style trash talking, but some past and present Vendée Globe sailors have very opinionated ideas about who will most likely win the Everest of offshore solo races. Most agree on the obvious conclusion that one of the more experienced sailors with a technologically advanced boat (and who is also very lucky) will be the first to arrive back to port at Les Sables d'Olonne after surviving the Vendée Globe’s around-the-world route. The general assumption is also that only about half of the fleet will even finish the race. But there is a lot of debate about who the most talented sailors in the fleet are and which boats are both the fastest and the most able to withstand the extreme punishment of circumventing the globe non-stop.

Already, for several months, the French press has often touted two-time Barcelona World Race winner Jean Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec) as a likely favorite to win. While speaking with Dick a few days ago in Paris, Dick agreed that he stood a good chance of winning the race and also offered a short list of competitors who he said would probably win. Besides himself, he said, his favorites to win are newcomer François Gabart (Macif), Vincent Riou (PRB), and Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire). These sailors are also sailing on the newest and lightest boats compared to the rest of the fleet. However, he emphasized that the sailors' seamanship skills will make the difference. "When you are in the middle of the ocean, some sailors' mental faculties may suffer, and as a result, the boat's technology and speed difference does not matter much when you can't take advantage of them," Dick told me.

The technical advantages of the newer boats are also not that significant, Dick said, which means other talented sailors sailing older but slightly less fast boats stand a chance of winning. These sailors include Marc Guillemot (Safran), Jean Le Cam (Synerciel) and Jérémie Beyou (Maître Coq), Dick said.

However, Dick did not think that British contender Mike Golding (helming Gamesa, at left-photo by Lloyd Images) was a favorite to win. Dick told me that Golding "lacks the experience" to win the race. Golding, understandably, was surprised by Dick's statement; Golding has taken part in three Vendée Globes and completed two, placing third in 2005.

“Dick’s comment is a funny thing to say about someone who has sailed around the world as many times as I have,” Golding told me.

Two-time Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux (aka “Le Professeur”) has a list of favorites that does not include Golding, either, nor British contingents Alex Thomson, who finished the 2008-'09 race or Samantha Davies, who placed fourth in 2009. Desjoyeaux does not expect Dick to win, either, but he shares many of Dick’s favorites: Le Cléac’h, Beyou, Riou, and Gabart (whom he sailed with in the Barcelona World Race).

For Desjoyeaux, placing in the top-15 finishers in Le Figaro Race is the true rite of passage for any hopeful who has ambitions of winning the Vendée Globe today. “Anybody who thinks they can win the Vendée Globe without competing in Le Figaro first is in for a rude awakening because they don’t have the necessary offshore experience and training that comes with sailing in that race,” Desjoyeaux said. “This is because you have 40 boats on the starting line in Le Figaro, all of the boats are the same, and each year there are only 15 possible winners.”

Desjoyeaux said, like in the Vendée Globe, sailors learn their true limits and seamanship skills in the Le Figaro. “When you sail in Le Figaro as a singlehanded sailor, you know how to drive and trim the boat, serve as a tactician, manage short sleep cycles, and everything else,” Desjoyeaux said. “You need to know all of this to have a shot at winning the Vendée Globe.”

Desjoyeaux also jokingly told me that he did not take part in this year’s Vendée Globe because he said that he “wanted to give someone else a chance to win.” Still, Desjoyeaux said, anything can happen in this very long, wild, and ultimately very dangerous race. “All anyone can say with any certainty is that the winner will be one of the 20 sailors,” he said. “The Vendée Globe is like the lottery. If you want to win, you have to play.”

Click here to meet the 20 contenders.
Click here to learn more about the round-the-world race.