Oman Sail’s Diam 24 team has its sights fixed firmly on a podium finish in the Tour de France a la Voile as they prepare to go into battle in the 2017 European season opener this Thursday. The expert crew will be looking to come fast out of the blocks at the Grand Prix Atlantique, a three-day regatta in Pornichet, western France, that kickstarts a busy summer schedule of racing.
The event, which features coastal racing, will be the first big test of 2017 for the team as they go up against stiff competition from some of the hottest crews on the Diam 24 one-design trimaran circuit. French sailing star Thierry Douillard is back as skipper of the Omani-flagged boat after a successful 2016 season that saw him take Oman Sail’s entry to a respectable fifth-place finish in the Tour de France a la Voile, a coastal race taking in nine French cities that is the pinnacle of the season.
British sailor Stevie Morrison, a former Olympic sailor and Douillard’s 2016 co-skipper, returns to take on helming duties while new draft Mathieu Richard, a former match racing world champion, will be responsible for navigation and tactics.
Oman Sail’s crew will also welcome back Omani sailing talents Ali Al Balushi and Abdulrahman Al Mashari, integral members of the 2016 line-up, as trimmers.
A second Oman Sail team, led by French offshore sailor Cedric Pouligny and featuring Omani sailors Yasser Al Rahbi, Raad Al Hadi, Akram Al Wuhaibi and Haitham Al Wuhaibi, will compete alongside Douillard’s outfit in some events as a development squad.
After a winter training programme at Oman Sail’s headquarters at Al Mouj Muscat the two teams have joined up with eight other crews in France to practice ahead of Grand Prix Atlantique.
The regatta will give the Oman Sail teams an idea of how competitive they are among the fleet, which will include 2016 Tour de France a la Voile winners Lorina Limonade and a new entry from French Olympian Billy Besson.
Al Balushi, a core member of Oman Sail’s offshore squad, said he envisages the competition to be even more challenging this year. “It will be great to get the 2017 European season going but we are under no illusions as to how tough the Diam 24 fleet will be this year,” he said.
“It will be interesting to see which teams are looking and how we compare against them after the first few events of the year.”
To best prepare for the Tour de France a la Voile in July, Douillard’s crew have planned a busy season that will see them compete in five or six regattas including Spi Ouest-France, Grand Prix Guyader, the Championnat de France and the Normandie Cup.
“We have been training alongside some of the top boats in the fleet which has been pretty cool, but now we’re ready to race,” Douillard said.
“The Grand Prix Atlantique will be the first time that Stevie and I will have competed on a Diam 24 with Mathieu so it will be about getting to know how we work together under pressure and gauging where we are as a team.
“We will use the event to identify our strong points and our weak points so we can work on them before the Tour de France a la Voile, which is the main focus of the season. We will give our best in every event.”