The Tour de France à la Voile takes place around the same time as the more famous cycle race, but the one to watch for in the peloton is the red spinnaker, not the yellow jersey!
There are other differences, like classes for amateurs & students and inshore races at stopovers. All the boats are Mumm 30s.
The 2006 event attracted 80 entries; most were French, but there were also competitors from Mauritius, Switzerland, Italy and Holland.
BYM News’ Aldous Grenville-Crowther asked VanUden TUDelft skipper Gert Van der Heljiden how a Dutch team got involved?
Gert Van der Heljiden: Way back in 2003, we were a group of students at Delft University, all in our first year of studying naval architecture. We started chatting about how beautiful it would be to do some racing together and then we thought why not go for it and we started making real plans?
We chose the Tour de France because anyone can compete in it as a student team against the professionals, it’s a big fleet with everybody having the same chances and it’s pretty cool to beat pros as a student team. Also it’s a nice mix between offshore racing, long distance racing and small Olympic courses; those are the the best features of the Tour.
So we did it for the first time, in 2004. It was all new to us and we finished way back, but we gained a lot of experience and we came back with new plans. We knew the format now, so nothing would be unexpected again, so we set out a campaign to win the student category in three years.
Who paid for the campaign?
GVderH: It’s all paid for by a team of sponsors. We are a group of 11, five people who started with us and the rest from 2005, except for one new this year. We know each other very well and everyone involved is a student at the Technical University of Delft, so it is one of the biggest sponsors, then there are six big companies that have invested in us.
The boat is second hand; we bought it last year and we are it’s second owner. We arranged the sponsorships ourselves. Delft is a technical university, so it has no students studying marketing and finance, or anything like that, but we managed. We worked out management and logistics and financial plans and we presented them to potential sponsors.
Of the 11 people how many are crew?
GVderH: You can have 6, 7 or 8 crew, according to the rules, so long as their weight is not more than 525 kilos. The problem with this boat is stability and stability is speed, so we have the maximum weight on the boat. We could have opted for 6 heavy people, but we have 7 because we find extra hands are useful.
The Elles en Mer team, which is all girls in the crew, is able to have 8 people on board.
What needs most skill on this boat?
GVderH: I would say trimming the mainsheet, because that controls the balance and balance is most important in this boat, because it is very unstable, very twitchy.
You had a leg win yesterday, how did you do it?
GVderH: We had a good strategy in advance and we made our own plans and stayed with them. It is very hard to stick to your plan if the fleet does something else, but we did. We had, basically, decided to follow the rhumb line to Marseille and the rest of the fleet went low into the beach, so we were separated by about five miles. At first, everyone else was gaining a lot, but we stayed with what the weather reports and computer said, which was that we would have wind at night and there would be no wind inshore. It paid off!
This is the end of your 3 year campaign, so what next?
GVderH: It isn’t certain, we want to sail together again, because we know each other very well, but it is difficult because we will have no infrastructure anymore; no boat, no shore base.
We have gained five places each year in overall ranking, so we want to continue with the same team, but a new boat. As you can see we are competitive right up to the big names in the amateur ranking, so it is really a story about money. We will have to look for companies to sponsor us.