Stiff competition for Malbon in Figaro race

A star-studded fleet of 52 sets a major challenge for Britain's Jonny Malbon and Nigel King as they start the opening leg of the 40th Figaro singlehanded race tomorrow.

The three-day run from Lorient to La Coruna in northern Spain promises easing weather at first, followed by a stiff blow from the north-west, and then a light finish which will stretch the Cowes-based Malbon in what is virtually a back-to-school relaunch of his career.

Malbon was forced out of last winter's round the world Vendee Globe exhausted and with a seriously deteriorating mainsail. His new Open 60, Artemis, had been late into the water, but this time he has set his sights, still carrying Artemis colours, lower.

He hopes to make the top five of the 15 rookies in the Figaro. That itself would be an achievement and given the presence of top competitors like Jeremie Beyou, Vendee winner Michel Desjoyeaux, Yann Elies, Armel le Cleac'h and Erwan Tabarly, winning the four-leg race will test the best.

Leg two takes the fleet back to St. Gilles Croix de Vie in France, leg three up to Dingle, in Ireland, the fourth back to Dieppe.

Taking over the 60-footer are Vendee top British entry Sam Davies and French round the world sailor Sidney Gavignet, with a heavily strapped right leg bruised by a winch handle.

They open their account in the Artemis-sponsored round the Isle of Wight race next Wednesday, but main objective is the Transat Jacques Vabre from Le Havre to Costa Rica in November.