Jubilation as a new French sailing hero is made, and the solo course record is decimated

A new French sailing hero was made tonight as Vincent Riou returned home, triumphant, to win the Vendée Globe solo round the world race. His arrival was greeted by a fervour almost impossible to imagine outside France. At a few minutes to midnight on a bitingly cold midweek night, hundreds of sailors had put out to sea to escort his boat, PRB, back to the finishing line off Les Sables d’Olonne. As PRB crossed at last, a fusillade of red flares illuminated the thousands of spectators jammed along the seafront of this out-of-season Biscay town.

Riou, 33, has never won a major race before, but tonight he has claimed victory what is surely the hardest ocean race of all. More than that, Riou has decimated Michel Desjoyeaux’s course record of 2001 by six days. And incredibly, he has done it in the very same boat.

Then he was a key member of Michel Desjoyeaux’s technical team. When Riou became her new skipper and the latest torch-bearer of PRB’s long involvement in the Vendée Globe, he made the boat lighter and more powerful, more able to match the speeds of the newer boats. Ultimately, though, such a race has to be won through skill and seamanship. Riou has sailed it near-perfectly, leading for nearly half of the course round the world and carefully preserving PRB all the way round.

He will be coming ashore for a press conference shortly and we will bring you some of his comments and answers later.

Jean Le Cam on Bonduelle is expected to cross the line tomorrow morning in 2nd place. Mike Golding is still just under 200 miles away in 3rd place and should arrive sometime during Thursday night or early Friday morning.