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Countdown to gruelling Vendée Globe race

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-09

The daring sailors taking part in the round-the-world yacht race Vendée Globe set off from France's Atlantic coast on Sunday. Frenchman Vincent Riou hopes to defeat treacherous weather and menacing icebergs as he bids to defend his title.

French skipper Vincent Riou, of PRB, is aiming to become the first skipper to win two consecutive Vendee Globe titles when he takes to the Atlantic waters here this weekend.

Standing in Riou's way in the sixth edition of the gruelling round-the-world yacht race, which is expected to take up to 80 days to complete, is 2000-2001 champion Michel Desjoyeaux, of Foncia.

But Riou, twice winner of the Calais Round Britain Race in 2003 and 2007, admits that one of his biggest opponents in the race will not be a fellow skipper but global warming.

"With global warming we now find icebergs a long way from the north in waters of six degrees.

"At these temperatures icebergs of 100 metres can transform into 'growlers' (fast-floating glaciers) in a few days. These growlers represent the greatest danger because they are undetectable and almost invisible."

Since its inception in 1989 the stage race, held every four years, has earned a reputation as being the ultimate endurance test - and one of the most dangerous races in the world.

The 30 skippers setting off on Sunday from this seaside town in western France will for the first time be aided by satellite technology which will give electronic weather updates every 16 days.

"In 2004, we had radars ... this time the organisation has given us a satellite system to locate glaciers and to spot little icebergs at several dozen metres," added Riou.

"(The system) allows us to sail in the most dangerous places and will help  us to anticipate when to stop. It is also a security factor."

For saftey skippers must also pass through seven 'doors', which are designed to stop sailors straying too far off course.

Whether it is the danger or the solitariness, the Vendee Globe attracts the cream of the world's sailing talent, some of whom who will be favourites to take the title.

Names such as Desjoyeaux, Loick Peyron (Gitana Eighty), Roland Jourdain (Veolia), Jean Le Cam (VM Materiaux) and Jean-Pierre Dick (Paprec-Virbac), the reigning Barcelona World Race champion.

"The first time I competed in the Vendee Globe - I got stage fright," said Dick, a vet by profession, of his debut four years ago where he finished a respectable sixth.

"The Vendee Globe is enormous. You are alone ... and the least error will be immediately punished."

During the last edition, Dick lost valuable time when he was forced to do some impromptu repairs on his vessel, a situation he wants to avoid this time round.  

"On my own, my biggest handicap will be not resorting to DIY. I can hardly change a lightbulb," he added jokingly.

But honours do not always assure top finishes and a new breed of hopefuls - including Sebastien Josse, Bernard Stamm and English duo Mike Golding and Alex Thomson will also be pushing hard for victory.

Date created : 2008-11-09