Stead stays ahead after 18-hour marathon

A tough, 18-hour race, saw both British crews in the Tour de France à la Voile achieve their objectives yesterday. It was upwind all the way from Sÿte to Bandol, light and testing in the early part, brisk and tiring in the final stages.

A tough, 18-hour race, saw both British crews in the Tour de France à la Voile achieve their objectives yesterday. It was upwind all the way from Sÿte to Bandol, light and testing in the early part, brisk and tiring in the final stages.

But fourth place for Tony Buckingham's Easy Oars kept them safely in fourth overall with Adrian Stead in Barlo Plastics on the tail of his main rival, Alain Fédensieu's Marseille 2000, all the way.

Fédensieu finished fifth yesterday and Stead sixth, which meant a reduction of just two points, to 44, in Barlo's overall lead. The race, led for a long time by Jimmy Pahun in Région Ile de France, third overall, was won by Etiénne David in Ville de Géneve and had the crews staggering to their beds as soon as it was over.

"It was a very tough game and a difficult tactical test," said Stead. "None of us slept the whole way. The crew is exhausted. But they sailed really well, and it was worth it."

Tim Dengate, of Easy Oars, added: "We were the furthest right of all the 34 boats, well out to sea, but were then able to pick up a fast angle into the turning mark by the Chateau d'If off Marseille. It paid off."

The crew rota plan sees double Olympian Stuart Childerley rejoining Barlo for the series of inshore races in Bandol, with silver medallist Ian Walker also still on hand.

Stead must resist any temptation to look over his shoulder at M2000, or even Ile de France, where Eddie Warden Owen steps in today alongside John Cutler for the missing Terry Hutchinson. While Stead cannot allow Marseille any latitude, especially on the longer legs in the fickle Mediterranean breezes, the pressure is on the French boat to gamble in the hope of making major gains on Barlo.

Stead is the figurehead but it has been a total team effort. His principal helmsman, Tim Powell, was also a member of Luc de Wulf's winning Belgian team on Kateije last year. He was given a day off yesterday but will be back for the inshore races today. A back-to-back double beckons.

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