Team Al Mouj Muscat (OMA) have kept their dreams of dethroning EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour champions EFG Bank Monaco (MON) alive by pipping them to victory in the nail-biting final offshore leg of the Arabian classic last night.
In one of the closest leg finishes ever seen in seven editions of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, Team Al Mouj Muscat edged across the finish line in Dubai just one second ahead of EFG Bank Monaco after 34 hours of intense racing from Doha.
The two rival crews traded blows – and positions – throughout the 205-nautical mile leg, the fifth and final stage of the 763nm race around the Arabian Gulf.
They came into the finish line off Dubai’s iconic Palm Jumeriah late last night neck and neck but Team Al Mouj Muscat, under the leadership of French sailor Christian Ponthieu, nudged ahead to pick up their first offshore win of the event.
Crucially the win moves Team Al Mouj Muscat to within two points of their arch rivals ahead of tomorrow’s final showdown of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, a series of up to three in-port races.
EFG Bank Monaco have been crowned EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour champions the past three years but Team Al Mouj Muscat, runners-up in 2016, could usurp them if they can better their rivals around the short racecourse.
“It was a great fight from the start until the finish,” an exhausted Ponthieu said. “We had a very good start but we only led for four or five hours until we got overtaken by EFG Bank Monaco. Right at the finish we had good speed and good strategy and we crossed ahead of them by just one second. We’re very tired but very happy – it’s good to finish the offshore part of this race with a victory. We’ve been aiming for this from the start so it feels good to have done it, and it means it’s now all on for the final in-port races.”
The result is pending a protest brought by EFG Bank Monaco against Team Al Mouj Muscat, who they allege sailed into a restricted zone.
“We don’t like to protest teams but it’s part of our job, part of the game,” said Thierry Douillard, skipper of EFG Bank Monaco.
The Leg 5 podium was completed by Adelasia di Torres, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour’s newest team, from Italy.
Skipper Renato Azara said it was proof that his team could hold their own against the more seasoned crews.
“We have been growing with every leg and this result is confirmation that we are becoming more and more confident,” he said. “We are very happy because it was not easy, all the teams are very strong, but finishing in Dubai on the podium is the result we’ve all been looking for.”
Team Renaissance (OMA) finished fourth ahead of Team Zain (KUW) to consolidate their third place on the overall leaderboard while the all-female crew on DB Schenker (GER) took sixth ahead of Team Averda (GBR).
Bienne Voile (SUI) retired from Leg 5 after running aground on a small island west of Abu Dhabi. No-one was injured and their yacht sustained only minor damage before being towed to deeper water by the EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour committee boat.
Following the conclusion of the Dubai in-port race series tomorrow a closing ceremony will take place at Oceana Beach Club, during which the champion of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2017 will be crowned.
Leg 5 results:
- Team Al Mouj Muscat (OMA/Christian Ponthieu) – 2 points
- EFG Bank Monaco (MON/Thierry Douillard) – 4 points
- Adelasia di Torres (ITA/Renato Azara) – 6 points
- Team Renaissance (OMA/Fahad Al Hasni) – 8 points
- Team Zain (KUW/Cedric Pouligny) – 10 points
- DB Schenker (GER/Annemieke Bes) – 12 points
- Team Averda (GBR/Andrew Baker) – 14 points
- Bienne Voile (SUI/Lorenz Mueller) – 18 points
- EFG Bank Monaco (MON/Thierry Douillard) – 12 points
- Team Al Mouj Muscat (OMA/Christian Ponthieu) – 14 points
- Team Renaissance (OMA/Fahad Al Hasni) – 27.75 points
- Team Zain (KUW/Cedric Pouligny) – 34 points
- Adelasia di Torres (ITA/Renato Azara) – 42.75 points
- Team Averda (GBR/Andrew Baker) – 50.75 points
- DB Schenker (GER/Annemeike Bes) – 54.25 points
- Bienne Voile (SUI/Lorenz Mueller) – 55.50 points