The infamous whizz-kid insists he's playing it conservatively as he prepares for the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre race

He’s back. The maverick of British solo sailing, the irrepressible Alex Thomson, is in full Hugo Boss fig at the Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic race.

Whereas other skippers are on a swansong with their sponsors at the end of their contracts, for Thomson this TJV from Le Havre to Costa Rica is the opening shot of a new Hugo Boss campaign that sets him on course for the next Vendée Globe in 2012.

He’s ready to make his mark but insists it is with the modest aim of finishing.

I’ve no doubt Alex wants to finish, but can he really saunter along at the back, calculating the odds and racing like an actuary? The whizz kid, dandified, keel-surfing, wake-boarding, let’s-just-send-it Alex Thomson? Honestly, I hope not.

I assume that he is playing down his chances. Thomson says his current Finot design is “not moded” for it, being too heavy and wide for a light downwind race. He says he is viewing a broader perspective. “If I finish last in every race and win the Vendée Globe I will meet my objective,” he says.

Thomson has broken speed records, been dismasted, lost a boat in the Southern Ocean, been hit by a fishing boat, got up again and been knocked out of a second consecutive Vendée Globe. It’s turning into the Holy Grail of his career.

He knows he must cautiously build success brick by brick and be seen to do so but the image of a risk-taker is proving hard to shake.

Thomson claims to be “one of the most conservative” IMOCA 60s skippers. True enough, he goes into this race with a boat that is not excessive and is well tested. He brings six years’ hard won experience in the class, including a successful circumnavigation in the Barcelona World Race.

(Mark you, he has just snapped up the überpowerful Juan K-designed Pindar which, grandfathered by a rule change, will have a greater righting moment than any future IMOCA 60. So what does that tell you?)

He will be racing with his boat captain Ross Daniel, a colleague he has known and worked with since they first met working for Clipper Ventures in 1996. The purpose of this partnership is strategic.

“The biggest issue in the Vendée Globe is reliability,” Thomson explains. “It’s hard to get across what you go through and what the boat goes through so having Ross do this race and the Barcelona World Race with me will give him this insight.”

While the result of the TJV may not be that important to him, I’m sure once the gun goes Thomson will be hungry to prove that he has not been left behind by sharpened newcomers while his boat was out of combat.

His race will be watched keenly for signs that he can balance his greed for speed with finesse and maturity.