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Laura Le Goff: the Vendée Globe, an enticing 'race like no other'
Published : 07 Nov 2020, 19:41
Laura Le Goff, the director of the Vendée Globe, the solo, non-stop round the world yacht race whose 9th edition kicks off on Sunday from the western French coastal town of Les Sables d’Olonne, has had to overcome a series of unprecedented challenges to ensure the competition goes ahead amid the shifting tides of a global pandemic.
Despite the impact of Covid-19 and related logistical challenges, Le Goff has persevered, and is convinced that this year could be the best yet for the Vendee Globe in terms of global attention - thanks to an audience that is confined to their homes - and the diversification of the field of competitors, as as many women will set sail this year as have taken part since the race was founded in 1992.
QUESTION: The Vendée Globe starts on Sunday. What do you hope to achieve this year?
ANSWER: This year is the ninth edition, so we hope that we can continue its continuity and success. We have seen that a number of nationalities wanted to participate. We have worked very hard to increase its visibility internationally. We have put in place a number of tools to follow the race and we want to share it with the wider public. It is also a chance to allow the discovery of new kinds of technology that have been installed on the boats. It will be a chance to embrace this spirit of innovation. It is also a chance to tell new stories, because we have skippers with varied profiles: we have international competitors, we have six women - it's a first for the Vendee Globe to have so many women - and we also have a paralympic champion, Damien Seguin. So it's a chance to have a sporting field that is really diversified, and the chance to tell these stories and share them with the public.
Q: This ninth edition will be held in an unusual context. Has the pandemic presented a new organisational challenge?
A: The lockdown and the restrictions required us to adapt and ask ourselves questions in order to hold the event, despite the context. We have met the challenge: we have established health protocols to be able to welcome visitors and to protect the skippers, who will have to self isolate for a week and take a series of tests before setting sail. It was not a simple challenge, but I think we can say today that we have successfully met that challenge.
Q: Will the high viewing figures and the economic success of the last edition continue this year?
A: It’s still a bit early for an evaluation (...) but we think that the lockdown could even work to our advantage, since the audience can follow the race from behind their screens and their smartphones. We think that with the digital tools that we have put in place the media attention will be very high.
Q: The number of competitors, 33, is a record. What do you think inspires people to take part?
A: Indeed, this year is a record in terms of the number of participants. We are obviously delighted. It's a very French model but it does attract an international crowd. Solo racing is starting to appeal to more and more people. I think that is due to the fact that it is both a competition and an adventure. The sailors are looking for that sense of competition but also to find themselves, to push themselves to the limits and test themselves against the elements. And of course to test themselves against solitude for numerous days. So I think it's really the Vendée Globe’s model that is so attractive. It's a race like no other.
Q: Six women are taking part this year, a record for the Vendée Globe. Is this event the Mount Everest of marine challenges, especially for women?
A: Obviously it's a huge pleasure for me to have six women taking part in this edition. I can only rejoice as a woman who is directing the Vendée Globe. Since the start of the competition, only six women have ever taken part. And now this year alone, six women are racing. I think it's a huge step forward for our society. It proves that women truly belong here alongside the men. As Doctor Chauve, the race doctor says, it is not a race that requires muscle power, it really requires strategy, and women are good strategists. They all belong on the podium in 2020. So I don't think it's any more of an Everest for the women than it is for the men. They all belong at the Vendée Globe just as much as the men.