Triumphant Pierre Quiroga wins 52nd La Solitaire du Figaro
After a four different, contrasting stages amounting to 14 days and 16 hours of intense solo racing, covering nearly 2500 miles, Quiroga won by a 48 minutes and 22 seconds ahead of Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF) who, on his 11thparticipation, finished on the podium for the third time.
The 29-year-old skipper Quiroga came into this 52nd edition of the annual French multi stage offshore with a decent track record, ninth last year and winner of this season's first long offshore back in March, the Solo Maître CoQ. But his simple, stated ambition was to win a stage and shoot for a top five result.
He finished a good second to an impressively quick Macaire on the first open, offshore stage on the Bay of Biscay to Span and back but then won a very technical, coastal Stage 2 and triumphed on Stage 3 to give himself a margin of one hour and 53 minutes going into the final leg last Sunday.
Originally from Marseille and with his family running a small family vineyard near Hyères, Quiroga becomes the first Mediterranean skipper since Kito de Pavant in 2002 to win La Solitaire du Figaro. Apparently his first ever time sailing an Optimist was on a Wednesday as a nine-year-old and he won his first ever race on the Sunday.
A past French Olympic 470 squad sailor he represented his country at the Youth Worlds and passed from Optimist to Laser to 470 to match racing, with a decent level of successes, before he took to solo offshore racing actually succeeding Macaire on the helm of the Centre Entrainment Mediterranée's supported Figaro talent selection in 2015.
His talent showed through when he then claimed 2019's selection to the Skipper Macif programme, Quiroga now joining alumini such as Vendée Globe winner Francois Gabart who finished runner up on La Solitaire du Figaro in 2010, Route du Rhum winners Paul Meilhat and Yoann Richomme – twice a winner in Skipper Macif colours in 2016 and 2019 and Charlie Dalin – second on the last Vendée Globe, a Skipper Macif helm who has five La Solitaire du Figaro podiums on his CV.
A spirited, intelligent strong minded individual– described as a 'something of free electron' by a contemporary from the CEM - who has not always fully prospered under the constrictions of a rigorous training programme, Quiroga has very much come into his own this race after profiting from regime changes at the elite Pole Finistère training centre.
"At the end of last year Pierre realised that he had to have a more structured approach but he also gained much more confidence in how he functions best, in his own skills and abilities and developed his own programme. Correspondingly he made sure he took time off to recover, to arrive fresh and invigorated at races. He really favoured a high quality of work rather than just quantity. And he has found settings which let him go fast, and sometime very fast, and speed, as they say makes you smart." Suggests Christopher Pratt, a fellow Marsellaise racer who is now IMOCA co-skipper to Jérémie Beyou and who coached the new La Solitaire champion when he first started out in the Figaro class, "What is impressive about this edition is that Pierre was in a state of grace, he was almost always in the right places, he did not hesitate to make a move to follow his instincts and it worked almost every time."
While Macaire has very definitely had a 'flow' on his side – and his instincts very nearly came unstuck last night and today when he chose to stay offshore on the 70 miles long final run into the finish. But he threw down the gauntlet when he took places almost at will in the final 40 miles of Stage 1 to finish runner up to Macaire into Lorient.
Quiroga attacked off the front of the pack when he could have consolidated on Stage 2 to Fécamp around the Brittany coast into the Channel to finish. And on Stage 3 he proved able to rebound three times after making small errors, each time getting back to the lead. And, as he mused after finishing, he was prepared to take risks to the end,
" I sailed this (last) stage as I like to: I believed in the offshore option, I did not believe in the thermal breeze inshore. I wanted to push this option all the way not to cover the others and that's why I did it. It was not the right option and I could have paid dearly for it. It could have cost me my Solitaire. Fortunately, it didn't. It's been a beautiful La Solitaire, and incredible La Solitiare.. My La Solitaire was on my own my little cloud. Above all, it's a single-handed boat full of pleasure: pleasure on the water, pleasure and simple satisfaction of routes taken and courses chosen... and that makes this victory all the more beautiful".
On the pontoon he added, "I wanted to be myself, to make my mark. That's how I won two stages,and got a podium on the first. And that's how I did this one too. I am immensely proud winning this one because this Solitaire is probably the hardest I've done, a rare hardness. I have a thought for the 12 rookies because for the first time, well done to them! I'm tired but, yes, I also have tears in my eyes, I admit: tears of victory"
Macaire who, like Quiroga, is moving on from the Figaro class has every reason to be proud. His challenge was compromised on Stage 2 when he caught a fish pot around his keel and had to dive to clear it and sailed most of the leg with his main navigation computer not working. When Quiroga had his best stage into Fécamp, Macaire had his worst.
Twice denied overall La Solitaire wins because of time penalties for small rule infractions, once straying into the corner of an exclusion zone and once for a broken seal on his fire extinguisher, Macaire closes his La Solitaire account with three podiums but overall victory having eluded him,
Macaire said " Pierre Quiroga maintains his first place overall, he was good, he is sailing really super well. It's true that it would have been so beautiful to win the Solitaire but I can be really proud of what I did, looking backwards over the years and now is no use. I am really happy with this second place in the general classification because it is never easy to get there. I can be proud of my victory on the first stage and of this great second place today. I have shown some great things during this month, I'm happy. I wanted at least the success of the podium, I had too many disappointments in this race, I didn't want to have any more."