Line honours will go to one of the eight giant Ultimes but there are also victories to be gained in each of the four other classes. Here is a quick evaluation of the favourites at three days before La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.
The weather forecasts seem to promise a lot of fast reaching and downwind sailing and so it is hard to look past the three biggest multihulls, Spindrift 2 (Yann Guichard), Banque Populaire VII (Loïck Peyron) and Sodebo Ultime (Thomas Coville) and to a lesser degree Sport Idec (Francois Joyon) which are all capable of cruising speeds of more than 30kts. But speed and power are not everything, Guichard and Peyron must be able to manage their craft for long periods with no errors. It is most likely that there will be two races within this class not least between the three former MOD70s Edmond de Rothschild (Sébastien Josse), Musandam-Oman Sail (Sidney Gavignet) and the newest Paprec Recyclage (Yann Elies).
Multi50 – four in the frame
It is the quartet of latest generation boats which seems to have the best chance naturally, fighting over the three podium places. Erwan Le Roux (FenêtréA Cardinal), Yves Le Blévec (Actual), Loic Fequet (Maitre Jacques) are the great adversaries in the Multi50 class. To this this trio, add Lalou Roucayrol a solo specialist (2nd in 2010 in the same category and 3rd 2002 ORMA), aboard a boat designed and built by him, Arkema Aquitaine, the most recent fleet.
IMOCA Open 60
There are two standouts, Vincent Riou (PRB) and François Gabart (Macif). Both have shown an edge during training and their boats are slightly quicker. Who will win between the two of them is the real question. Gabart showed exceptional consistent speed during his Vendée Globe win and may prevail in his first ever Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, just as he triumphed at his first tilt in the legendary solo race non stop around the world.
Jérémie Beyou (Maitre CoQ) rides a wave of confidence after his third victory in La Solitaire du Figaro-Eric Bompard cachemire and he is renowned for his competitiveness. Marc Guillemot (Safran) brings experience and a very longstanding intimate knowledge of his boat.
Class40: Ten or a dozen of the 43 strong fleet can win
There are at least ten skippers capable of winning, armed with competitive good boats and the fight is very likely to go to the finish line. With 43 starters, the Class40 may be the place for surprises though. But there are clear favourites on paper: Sébastien Rogues (GDF Suez) won everything last season aboard his Mach40 (Manuard design); double winner of La Solitaire, Nicolas Troussel was second on the Route du Rhum in 2010 (Credit Mutuel de Bretagne) and the very experienced Halvard Mabire (Campagne de France) has an exciting brand new Pogo. Kito de Pavant (Otio Bastide-Medical) may be a newcomer to the class but he is a great solo sailor and has trained a lot this summer.
The dark horse is very much Barcelona's Catalan Alex Pella whose boat, Tales 2, proved very fast in last year's Transat Jacques Vabre in which he finished second with Pablo Santurde. His is the only Botin design in the fleet but he has not raced in Class 40 since 2013's Transatlantic to Itajai, Brasil, electing instead to train from Santander. Yannick Bestaven has a very quick new Verdier design (Le Conservateur), but the boat is almost fresh from the builders.
Rhum Class. What a cocktail of designs
Which boat will win into the West Indies: a monohull or a multihull? It would be a dream to see either of the two small original yellow trimarans (Acapella / Charlie Capelle and Berto / Groupe Jean Paul Froc) do well or the two big black cigars (Kriter V of Benjamin Hardouin or Cap a Cap Location of Wilfrid Clerton).
Monohulls? Well, all eyes are on the defending champion, the Italian Andrea Mura (Vento di Sardegna) who has completely updated his Felci 50 footer to take try and pace the speeds of the 60 footer of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.In the Mulitihulls, Anne Caseneuve her Multi 50 Aneo should win.
Vincent Riou (IMOCA-PRB):'The race is likely to be a fast one. It will all be down to speed with very few strategic choices along the way. It should take us less than 13 days. PRB and Macif are fast, but we're looking here at crossing the Atlantic, so the others have what it takes to compete, if they find the right routing. I feel extremely relaxed. The only really stressful time is the hour leading up to the start and the start itself. With so many single-handed boats on one line, it's quite an experience. 91 boats means it's very special. It has to be well managed and is bound to be complicated. The only pressure is to get away from St. Malo without a hitch. My experience tells me that I just have to do the job and everything will work out fine."
Erwan Le Roux (Mutli50): "Firstly, I hope that the whole fleet of Multi 50s makes it to the other side, as that will be a victory for the class. There's going to be a huge battle. In general, we have seen that the most recent boats all have more or less the same speed potential, even if there are differences depending on the point of sail. But once out on the ocean, it evens out. So it is the sailor who will make all the difference. The winner will be the best one. The one, who has done better than the others, who has best managed his sleep, his manoeuvres and his energy..."
Kito de Pavant (Class40 - Otio - Bastide Medical): "Who's the favourite? I don't think talking about being a favourite means a lot. By its very definition solo sailing is a sport where the rankings at the start are shaken up. That is even more the case, when the standard in the fleet is so close. We're are certainly going to see lots of changes in the rankings right up to the finish, rather like in the Figaro circuit. On the other hand, I quite like the idea of being seen as the outsider. I feel at ease aboard the boat, which with the team we have spent a lot of time fine-tuning."