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France's Le Cléac'h wins round-the-world Vendée Globe race after epic duel

Damien Meyer, AFP | French skipper Armel Le Cléac'h gives a thumb up as he sails across the finish line of the Vendée Globe on January 19, 2017.

French sailor Armel Le Cléac’h won his first Vendée Globe on Thursday, fighting off a dogged challenge from Britain's Alex Thomson to wrap up the gruelling solo, non-stop, round-the-world race in a record 74 days.

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After finishing second in 2009 and 2013, Le Cléac'h, aboard Banque Populaire, became the eighth Frenchman to win the race in eight editions.

The 39-year-old was greeted by thousands fans in freezing temperatures in Les Sables d'Olonne on the Atlantic Ocean.

Thomson, who led the race aboard Hugo Boss until his starboard foil was damaged eight weeks ago, is set to take second place in the early hours of Friday.

The Briton was hoping to become the event's first non-French winner, 16 years after fellow Briton Ellen MacArthur took second place.

Thomson threatened a late comeback in the finale, breaking the world record for the most distance sailed solo in 24 hours when he covered 536.8 nautical miles earlier this week.

Le Cléac'h, however, extended his lead on Wednesday to beat the fastest mark set by previous winner Francois Gabart in 2013 by almost four days.

"Sailing culture makes the difference here. The best boats are made in South Brittany," sailor Sebastien Picault, who worked on Banque Populaire's foil, told Reuters.

"Hugo Boss is a fine boat with huge bursts of speed, but it struggles in upwind conditions while Banque Populaire is a better all-rounder."

One of the world's most challenging sporting events, the Vendée Globe is often described as the "Everest of the Seas".

Only 71 of 138 boats have finished the race since the first edition in 1989.

They were 29 sailors at the start of this edition on Nov. 6 at Les Sable d'Olonne and 11 of them have already called it quits.

The last sailor, Sebastien Destremau, aboard TechnoFirst-FaceOcean, still has to go through the feared Cape Horn as he lies almost 10,000 miles behind Le Cléac'h.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)


Click here to follow their final approach on Vendée Globe's official website.

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