Telefonica leaps ahead in Volvo race


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The Independent Online

The seemingly unstoppable march to dominance continued for Spain's Telefonica team as it extended its overall lead to 18 points in the Volvo round the world race.

Skippered by Olympic gold medallist Iker Martinez, the boat which has won the first three legs from Spain to South Africa, on to Abu Dhabi and China, showed a clean pair of heels to its five rivals in the Sanya inshore race today and sets out in high spirits on leg five to Auckland tomorrow.

In second place is the other Spanish entry, Camper, which, crewed mainly by Kiwis and Australians, had to fight hard to haul itself up from being backmarker in the difficult but fast conditions to finish fourth in a race which lasted a couple of minutes under an hour.

Team boss Grant Dalton had shipped in specialist coaches, including double Olympic medallist and team New Zealand coach Rod Davies, to sharpen up performance. A failure to perform on the fourth leg into what is, in effect, its second home port could see heads on the block.

Britain's  Ian Walker, at the helm of the Abu Dhabi entry, was third, but is always playing catch up after being dismasted on the first leg and is lying fifth overall in the six-boat fleet and 38 points behind Telefonica.

Volvo Ocean Race organisers will split Leg 4 into two stages and hold the six boats in Sanya after Sunday's leg start to allow enough time for dangerous conditions to clear, with fears that waves of up to eight metres could wreak havoc with the fleet.

Race director Jack Lloyd informed the teams on Saturday that Leg 4 to Auckland would be split for reasons of safety after forecasts of unsailable conditions in the South China Sea.

The first stage will start as scheduled at 1400 local time (0600 GMT/UTC) and will see the boats complete an inshore course in Sanya Bay before sailing past the famous Guanyin Buddha of South China Sea statue and finishing at Sanya Bay lighthouse which marks the entrance to Sanya Marina.

The fleet will then wait until conditions are deemed safe enough for them to sail. The delay will not be for more than 24 hours.

The re-start will be staggered, with the boats leaving in the order they finish Stage 1.

"It could be that we re-start the in the hours of darkness on Monday morning," Lloyd told the teams.

Ideal conditions are predicted for the start of the Caribbean 600, organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, starting in Antigua on Monday.