Sailing: Britain back in the frame as a Tour destination

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The Independent Online

Major plans to revamp the Tour de France - the version for yachts rather than bicycles - are being discussed behind the scenes as the fleet of 39 gathers in Dunkirk, and Britain could be back on the itinerary.

The new Tour director, Paul-Alain Chaudet, wants to see the timescale cut by a week to 26 days, the number of stopovers reduced from 13 to nine or 10, and he would like to see more international teams.

Britain's Adrian Stead took the event by storm in 2000 and rocked the French with an outright win. But the inclusion that year of a stop at a marina near Portsmouth was less than sparkling and the Tour has reverted to visiting French ports only.

Chaudet now hopes the cross-Channel link can be renewed. He is also confident that, despite an unsure economic situation in France, the event is already looking stronger for the next two or three years.

Before that, with nearly 1,200 miles ahead of them - the last 250 in the Mediterranean - and 37 races in 33 days, this is a marathon test of endurance of team social chemistry, both on the track and off.It is no less a test of a logistical support system that sees both field kitchens and engineering sheds chasing them round the stopovers.

Britain's sole representative for this 26th edition of the Tour is in the student division and, although from the Southampton Institute, many of the names are French. There are no Kiwis this time, though the Australians have a good team, and the Italians have joined the fray, bringing the likes of Vasco Vascotto and Flavio Favini, names which have graced America's Cup crew lists.

After a programme of inshore races the Tour begins its journey down the Channel to Dieppe on Sunday, continues round Brittany and down to Arcachon before travelling by truck overland to St Cyprien and along the Mediterranean to Antibes.

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