French new favourites to win VOR, while former race leaders Telefonica crash out of the race they had dominated

Groupama advanced to become the favourites to win the Volvo Ocean Race, defeating the previously dominant Telefonica after a dramatic 12 hours as the fleet approaches the finish in Lorient. The French team is expected to finish the penultimate leg of the VOR by 1100 UTC.

The drama started when leg leaders Telefonica broke a rudder on Thursday afternoon. Iker Martinez’ team replaced the damaged rudder only to break this one during a wild gybe at 0400 UTC.

“We were sailing in 28-32 knots of wind. We were getting closer to the centre of the low and pushing the boat hard as every team has been doin, explained watch leader Pepe Ribes. “We broached in a wave, did a big nose dive, and the starboard rudder broke. It was a big surprise for us. We fitted a new rudder and in 45 minutes we were back sailing and back in the race. All afternoon we pushed really hard to get back and by the evening we were side by side with Groupama.

“When we gybed we were in 40-45 knots and big waves. After the gybe we were sailing with the fractional and it was very difficult. We changed sails, a big wave hit, we Chinese gybed and broke the starboard rudder again. We’ve been sailing all night with the J4, no main, and we’re trying to get to Lorient safely.”

Now limping towards the finish line, Telefonica looks likely to finish in fifth place. If Groupama wins the leg Franck Camas’ team would have a 28 point lead over Telefonica with just one offshore leg and two in port races remaining. With a maximum of 42 points left in the race victory is not guaranteed for Groupama but the task facing Telefonica is a big challenge for a team that has come last in four of the eight in-port races. (Of the other four the team has scored two second to lasts and two firsts.)
“The mood on board is everything it could be in these circumstances. We’ve just lost any chance of winning the race around the world,” said skipper Iker Martinez as his team limped towards the finish.
“More than two years’ work have gone in a few minutes. Now I’m content with just arriving without any more trouble.”