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VOR: MAPFRE wins Leg Zero even as Vestas 11th Hour Racing and other teams show round-the-world race

LISBON, POR – Spanish team MAPFRE has won Leg Zero, the prologue to the Volvo Ocean Race, and has to be considered the favorite going into the bluewater classic that starts in two months. But, as Vestas 11th Hour Racing showed, the racing could be close. The fourth and final leg of Leg Zero was called off early today with the boats literally drifting. Skipper Charlie Enright’s (USA) Vestas 11th Hour Racing was declared the stage winner after it had sneaked ahead of MAPFRE.

What does it all mean? That the teams with race experience and-or enough preparation time are closely matched going into the VOR, which starts Oct. 22 from Alicante, ESP.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing became the third team to grab a victory from four stages in Leg Zero, joining MAPFRE (two wins) and Dongfeng Race Team. MAPFRE finished third in the final leg after also being overtaken by team AkzoNobel in the painfully light conditions.

The victory was good news for the American-based Vestas 11th Hour Racing, which is led by Ivy Leaguers Enright and team general manager and crewman Mark Towill (USA).

“There may never be another one quite like that, but we'll take it,” Enright said. “We've been improving every day we spend on the boat together and it's nice to see that improvement manifest itself in the form of a win.”

Rookie VOR skipper Simeon Tienpont (NED) of team AzkoNobel was pleased.

"We knew already it’s close action but definitely learned how important it is to have the routine on board right and keep everyone focused all the time,’’ he said.

The teams faced a variety of conditions, from a rough rounding of the Isle of Wight in conditions that Turn the Tide on Plastic skipper Dee Caffari (GBR) described as “almost as hard as the Southern Ocean,” a classic Rolex Fastnet Race, a quick sprint from Plymouth to Saint-Malo and an agonizing drift in the leg from Saint-Malo to Lisbon, which eventually led to the stage being split in two and then brought to a premature close at 0430 UTC.

After months of training in all conditions, MAPFRE skipper Xabi Fernández is eager for his team to recuperate before attacking the final preparations.

“One of the things we have to do now is have a good rest because it has been a lot of work over this last month,” he said. “Then we work on the small details of the boat, do the last push in the gym, make sure everyone is healthy, then be focused on the start.’’

There will be no rest for Caffari as Turn the Tide on Plastic – carrying the message of the United Nations Environment Clean Seas campaign – will be running at full speed in order to finalize crew selection.

They may be playing catch-up but the half male, half female, predominantly youth team, can certainly challenge the rest of the fleet as they proved in the last 48 hours.

“To actually lead the fleet in this final stage of Leg Zero was absolutely awesome. The confidence it gave the team, you could see it, and the focus, the intensity, everyone raised their game because they could see the other boats so close,’’ Caffari said.

Charles Caudrelier (FRA), whose Dongfeng team finished second overall and won the Volvo Ocean 65 class in the Fastnet, added, “I think I am happy. I think we had a good speed and a good spirit onboard. I’m pretty sure we can do very well."

Leg Zero final rankings:

1. MAPFRE 29 points

2. Dongfeng Race Team 24

3. Team Brunel 23

4. team AkzoNobel 22

5. Vestas 11th Hour Racing 20

6. Turn the Tide on Plastic 13

7. Sun Hung Kai Scallywag 9

MAPFRE, shown here after the race around the Isle of Wight, is the overall winner of the Volvo Ocean Race's Leg Zero. Photo: Ugo Fonolla/Volvo Ocean Race

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