Vendée Globe:Vincent Riou: « I’m Not Vincent The Terrible, I’m Just Shy »
Wednesday, 24 October 2012
Vincent Riou is the only one of twenty skippers who knows what it takes to win the Vendée Globe. Meet the man behind the myths.
Some call him Vincent The Terrible, others the Iceman, but he says they just don’t know him and it is hard not to warm to Vincent Riou, the former Vendée Globe winner and one of the favourites for this edition.
What does he think of his nicknames? “I have nicknames?” He says. “’Vincent The Terrible’, that’s Le Cam and they say Iceman because they don’t know me. I’m just a little bit shy,” and up close you believe him.
We’re sitting on the dock overlooking the 20 boats, which increasingly resemble space rockets, none more so than Riou’s new generation PRB. With under three weeks from the start, everything is ready and compared to the last edition when he had continual problems with his new boat and only qualified a fortnight before the start, he is calm. Well, he is as relaxed as a skipper who has worried over every detail of the campaign for four years and is about to sail 26,000 miles around the planet in 80 days can look.
“I am shy, it’s my nature, it’s just the way I am. But (in the 2006-07 two-handed Barcelona World Race) lots of people asked Sebastien Josse; ‘don’t you think you’re going to be bored with Vincent?’ (he smiles) and he (Josse) said; ‘what do you mean? He talks all the time I can’t get a word in.’”
To skippers not part of the Brittany band who train together in Port-la -forêt, the 40-year-old Riou must seem aloof, unknowable and because of his success, intimidating. It will not be long before someone dubs him the Professor of the Seas - although in fact it is Armel Cléac'h is much more likely to found analysing reams of data, Riou works more on instinct in his decision making. To some he may look cold and practical with his rectangular spectacles and poker face in skippers’ briefings.
Is it partly deliberate to have a psychological advantage over potential rivals?
“No, but it depends on the individual, I’ll give you an example,” he says. “At sea, Michel Desjoyeaux (his old mentor) hates talking to the others, even if they are friends in real life, he doesn’t want anyone to call him because he thinks it’s a weakness, whereas I don’t care, I call my friends at sea.”
“The Vendée Globe is not like boxing or Formula One. There is a real spirit to this race. It’s not like the America’s Cup where they really compete against each other and then they come back. This is very different, we all leave to go around the world alone, on a boat and we know that it has a price. This price is that one can always dismast and then somebody is going to be there to help. We are all ready for this.”
These are not just words. Riou is not being melodramatic.
It was Jean Le Cam who nicknamed Vincent Riou “Vincent The Terrible” as Riou took the lead in his older generation boat as they drag raced south from the start in 2004-05. The name stuck in the popular imagination partly because of the French nuclear submarine ‘Le Terrible’ but mainly because Riou won the closest finish in Vendée Globe history, crossing the line less than seven hours ahead of Le Cam.
But he is perhaps more famous for what he did in the 2008-09 edition. He could not repeat victory, after a storming recovery by Desjoyeaux, but in a race full of drama and broken boats and dreams, Riou’s was the most extraordinary story. Near the front of the fleet, his older rival, Le Cam, lost his keel bulb and capsized 200 miles west of Cape Horn and it was Riou who turned and reached him first as fears for Le Cam’s life grew. Le Cam had spent 18 hours trapped and brave five-degree water and 12 foot waves to swim to Riou, who got as close to Le Cam’s boat as he dared. In the process Riou is thought to have clipped his outrigger on Le Cam’s upturned keel and just 36 hours later, having continued the race with Le Cam on board, Riou was dismasted after just rounding Cape Horn. He was later awarded joint third place by the organisers.
Born in Pont L’Abbé in Brittany, four hours drive north of Les Sables d’Olonnes, Riou was a rebel sailor from a young age.
“I was not that great at school, I didn’t really like it,” he says. “The big punishment from my parents was to say; ‘no school, no grades, no sailing.’ That would drive me nuts but I never accepted the punishment. My parents had no choice because I would say I’m going take all my stuff and go in the middle of the winter and they had to give up.”
As the grandson of a fisherman, with great respect for the traditions of the sea, perhaps he has salt in his blood. Riou burst onto the solo scene as a precociously determined and talented 21-year-old in the first Transat Jacques Vabre in 1993, finishing against the odds as he took on water.
Nineteen years later he says he has not lost that passion and determination despite the fact that is his job and he has a young family.
“The kids (Martin, seven and Capucine, four) are small so they have always seen me come and go so they don’t really ask questions about it,” he says. “The hardest part is leaving the family, but they know I will be going on the Vendée. My wife (Sophie) and I are together on this. It’s a common choice. My parents on the other hand (he laughs), they’ve had to accept it but do they really want to, that’s another question? But they know I’m happy doing this so even though they don’t really like it they don’t say anything. They’ll be here the week after for the children’s holidays and the start.”
After winning in and older boat in 2004-05, Riou said he thought it would be impossible to do that again because of the improvements in the campaigns and as one of the six new boats out of the 20 on the start line it is something he is sticking to.
“It’s very difficult for an old boat to win the Vendée Globe,” he says. “If an older boat wins it means all the new boat will have had technical problems and will have had to stop.”
“Virbac-Paprec 3, Macif and Banque Populaire and PRB, naturally, are my favourites. With those four all the preparation is almost perfect. But there are a lot of things that can happen, ten boats have a chance I think.”
Armel Le Cleac’h (Banque Populaire) may be the favourite of the bookmakers and many of the skippers but Vincent Riou is the only one of the skippers who knows what it takes to win the Vendée Globe.
“I’m feeling pretty good because technically everything is done. The boat is ready, there is so much less stress than last time I can wait peacefully and be with my family and work with my sponsors and keep everything cool.” Cool but not cold, says the Iceman.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 24 October 2012 )