Alex Thomson claims 2nd place in the Vendée Globe race, admits it was gruelling but hints that he will be back next time to win
Alex Thomson finished the Vendée Globe solo round the world race in the biting cold of dawn today to take 2nd place in a time of 74d 19h 35m.
Like the winner ahead of him, Armel Le Cléac’h, Thomson showed intense and mixed emotions. He fist pumped vigorously as he crossed the line, but later said that the disappointment of his foil breakage and his months-long pursuit was not something he wanted to talk about.
“This race is brutal, absolutely brutal,” he commented. “These things definitely have an impact and I’ve spent the last two months internally being frustrated and considering what could have been.
“I had to challenge myself mentally to be positive and to view things instead of the glass being half empty, considering it to be half full.
“So I have stopped wondering ‘what if’. I think you guys can decide what if and I’ll be very satisfied with my 2nd place.”
Watch him talking to Elaine about the race here>>
Thomson’s statement ashore was greeted with a round of applause and he was given a standing ovation at his press conference. Thomson has been taken to the hearts of the French public for his ‘magnificent 2nd’, and gained a legion of supporters in the UK and abroad.
His on board videos have allowed people to see the open-hearted, funny, slightly cheeky guy that exists alongside the serious-minded, determined competitor. His character is more appreciated now than at any other time in his three previous Vendée Globe races.
So much so that French press were asking whether he would return in 2020 with an almost wistful longing.
Thomson answered that he’d have to talk to his wife, but left the strong impression that it would be a short chat (Kate, his wife, smiled warmly at this remark) and as much as said he will return in four years’ time – to win.
He said he had had three objectives coming into this race: first to finish; second to podium; and third to win. “I’m happy we got two of those,” Thomson said.
He seemed happy and full of life despite being exhausted from coaxing Hugo Boss to the finish without properly functioning wind instruments and thus autopilot. But he freely conceded that the race was “gruelling,” and he spelled out the remorseless stress of this long race.
“It can’t be healthy. You know, the physicality of moving the sails around and pulling them up and down is hard, the lack of sleep, the decision-making and the clarity you need in your brain is massive. I think the bit where you really notice it is when you finish and the responsibility and the stress of the whole thing, not just the stress of the competition but of what can go wrong.
“Anything can go wrong at any moment and so I’m constantly planning and preparing. I make a thousand different plans, what if this happens, what if that happens. It’s incredibly painful on your brain.
“And when you cross the finish line it’s all over and it does feel like the whole world is lifted from your shoulders.”
Thomson spoke briefly about his foils, the major step change in evolution in this fleet.
A huge question before this race was just how durable these foils would be – there were many sceptics. Yet there has been only one retirement (Seb Josse, Edmonde de Rothschild) as a result of foil damage. Thomson broke his port foil but was able to carry on and remain fast without.
But he did emphasise the advantage of using foils (and disadvantage of being without) when he stated that without a foil he was sailing at just over 80% of polars, whereas when he was using a foil he was able to sail at 120% of polars. Foils clearly give these boats another gear.
Without a starboard foil though the Southern Ocean, Thomson was having to push significantly harder than Le Cléac’h just to hang on to his coat tails.
There is much more to be gained from foil development, and more speed to gain, he said.
“Isn’t it fantastic that we are in this class where we are able to progress sailing in the way that we are doing?
“For me, being able to sail on a boat with foils and not with foils is the world of difference. There was lots of debate beforehand whether it was right or wrong. I’ve been surprised. The public have been fascinated by the different choices and fascinated by the speeds.
“Personally I don’t think we made extreme choices, we just took them a little bit further than where they were. So the next development, who knows? Are we going to fully fly? Are we going to be more efficient in waves?
“As for our foils, they were the fastest in some conditions but not in other conditions. There’s always a trade-off. How do you find the middle ground? But what is for sure, we’ve moved a long way from the designers’ drawings when they did not even know if it was going to work. Now we know it works and we have a bit more time. So quite possibly we might make bigger gains in four years’ time.
And that is one of the attractions for me.”
What next for him?
“I’m going to have some sleep and then I have a party to attend tonight,” he laughed.
“Often people ask me what is the best thing about offshore racing and most of the time it’s the party at the end!”