Muscat: With less than two months before the start of the 2016 Tour de France a la Voile (TDFV), the Diam 24 crew on Oman Airports by Oman Sail have started an intensive dedicated training programme aimed at a top five finish for Oman. Over the past few months, the five strong squad of Ali Al Balushi, Abdulhaman Al Mashari, Pierre Leboucher, Stevie Morrison and skipper Thierry Douillard have been working out their roles and sharpening skills by competing in a variety of events, mainly in northern France.
These included Spi Ouest France in la Trinite sur Mer at the end March, the Grand Prix Atlantique in April and finally GP Ecole Navale earlier this month with results steadily improving. Peak performance came at the GP Guyader, also in April, where they came third in a highly competitive field of 25 boats.
Up to now, the squad has been combining their Diam 24 training with other commitments but from now until the 8 July when the three week long TDFV starts in Dunkirk, France, the Oman Airports by Oman Sail crew will be living and breathing Diam 24s, said skipper Douillard. “Our training so far has gone well - there has been a group of four of five boats at all these events who competed in the TDFV last year and we are getting closer and closer to them.
“We have devoted time to trying various configurations in the team and things are taking shape so between now and the start of the Tour, the team will be 100% focussed on training and events, including the Normandy Cup in early June and additional training sessions.”
Teams from Oman Sail have competed in the TDFV since 2010, making their debut on the Farr30. For the next four years, they campaigned M34s up until last year, when both the TDFV format and fleet was changed.
The high performance Diam 24 trimaran, guaranteeing a speed spectacle, replaced the M34 and the sequence of long distance legs and stopovers became a series of short Coastal and Stadium Races at different ports around France’s Atlantic and Mediterranean coast including Dunkirk, Dieppe, Roscoff, Baden, Roses in Spain, Gruissan, Marseille, Hyeres and Nice. The changes are designed to bring the action closer to the spectators.
This will be Oman Sail’s debut in the new format but both skipper Douillard, who raced on the winning boat last year and British helmsman Stevie Morrison are realistic about the challenge that lies ahead in 2016.
“The level has been stepped up since the changes and many of the teams are full time professionals so this will be a real challenge. We are learning fast but still have a long way to go because the other teams are so strong. So although our preparations have gone well I think we will be shooting for the top 5 this year. The following year, we will be better placed for a podium or even a win," said Morrison.
“Abdul and Ali have shown a real aptitude for this type of racing but with just three crew on the boat, their normal job sheet has trebled, even quadrupled so this will be the toughest sailing challenge of their lives.”
This is precisely the reason why they were looking forward to the TDFV, commented Ali who will be competing in his 5th tour in 2016.
“We have raced in a few Tours, but this is a new boat and a new challenge,” he said. “We have done a lot of training and love the fact that there are only three crew on board because it means we have to think more and do more so we learn more. And it makes things more exciting. We will be up against 25 other teams including some of France’s top legends so we are in for some really tight and intense times on the water.”
Inaugurated in 1978, Tour de France à la Voile is a multi-stage annual yachting race around the coast of France, linking the English Channel to the French Riviera.
The race attracts sailing veterans such as Loïck Peyron and the four time America's Cup winner Russell Coutts, as well amateurs and students. It combines intensive offshore sprints with short inport races, a concept that is similar to the longest offshore race round the GCC, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, which is organised annually by Oman Sail.
Crew members: Ali Al Balushi, Abdulhaman Al Mashari, Pierre Leboucher, Stevie Morrison and Thierry Douillard (skipper).