A record-equalling 40 teams are preparing to do battle in the 25th Tour de France à la Voile which starts tomorrow…

The Tour de France à la Voile 2002 is about to start. The 40 Mumm 30s are lining up in the marina of Dunkerque-Dunes de Flandres. The measurements have been done over the last few days. The crews are now sorting out the last details in order to be ready for Friday’s prologue.

The prologue is a non point-scoring race that gives a chance to the crews to tune up and meet the other competitors. The first two point scoring inshore races will take place in the waters of Dunkerque-Dunes de Flandres on Saturday. Most of them are eager to start this four weeks regatta.

Once again, the level of competition of this one-design event mixing inshore and offshore racing promises to be high and we should see some tight and fierce racing.

One of the unique features of the Tour de France à la Voile is to see professionals, amateurs and students lining up on the same start line and racing against each other.

With 40 entries, the 25th Tour de France à la Voile equals its 1988 record. Among the many French entries are a few foreign teams. There are two British teams, a professional one, Panther Team GBR skippered by Rob Greenhalgh and an amateur team, Royal Thames, skippered by Owen Modral.

Both British skippers are looking forward to starting racing. “We’re pleased to be here. It’s an exciting event. I’m very impressed with the set up. I hope things will go right. We’re eager to start as we’ve been sitting around ashore for a few days and it’s getting tedious”, comments Rob Greenhalgh. Panther Team GBR hopes to finish in the top five.

In order to train they’ve participated in the European and the French national Mumm 30s championship. “We know it’s going to be difficult as this event is very competitive. At the French national the fleet was very strong, far more than the British fleet. This is probably equal or even more competitive that the European and World championship”, adds Panther Team GBR skipper.

Royal Thames is also ready to start racing. “We’re well on course. The boat is in the water. The sails have been measured. We’re ready to start”, says Modral who sailed two weeks last year onboard Simon Shaw’s British University and is happy to be back. “It’s an excellent event. It’s the best boat to sail in such an event both in terms of racing and having a good time”.

Royal Thames expectations are to try and win the amateur division and finish in the top ten. “We’d like to produce what we did last year. We’ve learned a lot form last year and we hope to improve through the Tour. We’re quite realistic and know it won’t be easy. We can be good on our day but we might not have consistency. We don’t know how strong the fleet is this year, but we have an idea”, adds Modral.

For offshore races, Royal Thames will have the precious help of good navigators such as Larry Rosenfield. “France is a very offshore sailing nation. We’re learning so much about how to prepare and sail the boat offshore. We have got a fair idea of how to approach the 70 to 100-mile legs but we’ll be learning as we go on the very long ones”.

There are also some international teams such as Vincent Portugal’s Cassis-Maugio Carnon with Italian Mumm 30 World Champion Vasco Vascotto and Aussie Nick Moloney who is part of Ellen MacArthur’s Offshore Sailing Team.

There is a team comprised of Aussies and Brits competing in the student division. Force EDC is skippered by Australia’s Simon Sutherland. The two Swiss teams are back. Etienne David’s Ville de Genève Carrefour Prevention competing in the overall division and Lorenz Müller’s Bienne Voile in the amateur division.

The Belgians are also back onboard T Service Interim Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest. These foreign teams will have to face serious French contenders such as Mart Hiercelin onboard Kenzo, Pierre-Loïc Berthet’s Nantes-St-Nazaire and Jimmy Pahun’s Région Ile de France with Isabelle Autissier and Pascal Bidégrry, winner of the single handed race Solitaire du Figaro in 2000. “I have a nice team. They read extremely well. I hope they will do well. I tried to have a team of “Figaristes” (Firgaro sailors). Erwan Tabarly will be joining us in Dieppe. I wanted to have people who know how to sail and stand well on long offshore legs as this year’s course will be pretty tiring”, comments Jimmy Pahun.

Once again, member of the France’s Olympic sailing team are participating such as 470 world champion Gildas Philippe, skippering Dieppe Seine Maritime, or 49ner sailors like Dimitri Deruelle onboard Marseille and Julien Farnarier and Marc Audineau onboard Ville d’Antibes-NEC.