By A Staff Reporter — MUSCAT — Oman Sail’s offshore racing Team BAE Systems is putting the final touches to its campaign for the 2012 Tour de France a la Voile (TDFV) an elite offshore sailing race around the coast of France which gets under way in Dunkerque today.
Two of the Omani crew who competed last year, Ahmed al Maamari and Ali al Balushi have returned for 2012, using their valuable experience to develop a host of new talent from Oman Sail, under the auspices of skipper Cedric Pouligny (FRA), navigator Gerald Veniard (FRA) and tactician Leigh McMillan (GBR). The latter will race with Team BAE Systems before returning to helm the leading Extreme 40 team The Wave, Muscat in the fourth leg of the Extreme Sailing Series in Portugal from July 5-8.
A Team BAE Systems squad of 15 — eight international and seven Omani sailors — has been selected for the month long event. They will be rotated through the series of offshore, coastal and inshore races around the coast of France starting in northern France and finishing a month later in the south at La Seyne sur Mer on July 26.
The squad has been training together since March, competing in a number of warm up regattas at La Trinite sur Mer during Spi Ouest France, where they finished third followed by a sixth place at the Grand Prix Guyader a Douarnenez.
Most recently, they recorded an outright win in the 235 nm offshore race, which was part of Normandy Sailing Week to finish 4th overall in the event. Many of the crew were selected from their participation in Oman Sail’s second edition of Sailing Arabia — The Tour earlier this year.
Ahmed al Maamari said they were hopeful of beating their 2011 Tour de France a la Voile success, finishing in 5th place.
“Last year we had not sailed together much but this time we have done a lot of racing so we should do well, hopefully in the top three. We have a mix of expertise on board with an almost 50 per cent Omani crew, which reflects the growth and development of young Omani offshore sailors, many of which are new. They are knowledge-hungry and learning fast. We won the offshore race in Normandy Week and I think we are stronger offshore. We have here to win and we will be giving it 100 per cent.”
Skipper Cedric Pouligny added: “In some ways we are better prepared this year but this is a new crew and the professional teams are getting better and better.”
The Tour de France a la Voile, raced in identical M34 boats, is one of the biggest events in the French sailing calendar and is considered among the most difficult of any sailing regatta in the world. This year it has attracted 15 teams, mainly from Europe, including last year’s winner Bertrand Pace and his crew on Region de Bruxelles-Capitale.
Said Leigh McMillan: “It is a huge challenge, physically and mentally to sustain such a high level of performance over such a long time. You have to refresh quickly — doing offshore races for two days with no sleep then one night off followed by more inshore racing.
“It’s very demanding on the body. You see some incredible conditions and it’s very tight racing. It’s recognised as some of the hardest racing you can do so it is very rewarding.”
The Tour de France a la Voile begins with two 80 km coastal courses in Dunkerque 'Tour of the Bancs de Flandres', and Dieppe. Scoring for 2012 has changed from previous years with the scoring coefficient still one point for each course shorter than 80 km and two points for the courses between 80 and 160 km, three points for those between 160 and 240 km, and four points for the three courses longer than 240 km.
The Tour will include six offshore races with eight stopovers starting from the north in Dunkerque — Dieppe (Leg 1), Dieppe — Saint Cast (Leg 2), then heading west from Saint Cast- Roscoff (Leg 3), Roscoff — Talmont (Leg 4), before concluding the last two legs in southern France form Roses — Grussan (Leg 5) and Grussan — La Seyne sur Mer (Leg 6).