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Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race
After each turning in blistering performances in what turned out to be a fast and furious Rolex Fastnet Race, record-breaking Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, runners-up Groupama Sailing Team and Team Sanya all professed to be tired but happy. Rightly so, writes Justin Chisholm.

With all three teams having successfully survived the testing conditions of the Fastnet Race unscathed, the crews will have plenty of positives to take from the experience

The much anticipated race-within-a-race between the three Volvo Ocean Race boats did not disappoint, with all three teams locked together from the very start.

With each team having been ahead at some point as they negotiated the confines of the Solent, the three boats then maintained their close formation throughout the first day as they worked their way along the south coast of England.

As the boats approached the southernmost tip of the UK, Mike Sanderson on the recently refitted and relaunched Sanya outsmarted his rivals with a tactical gamble, cutting close inshore at Land’s End to steal eight miles from the more southerly Groupama 4 and Azzam.

The long leg out to the Fastnet Rock turning mark saw all three boats racing line abreast for several hours with Sanderson comfortably maintaining his advantage in the moderate 10-12 knot breezes. However, as the expected cold front approached on the afternoon of the second day, ramping the breezes up to the 20 knot range, the superior heavier air performance of the newer boats came into play and it was Groupama 4 who led around the rock, followed five minutes later by Azzam.

As the winds increased still further overnight the Volvo Open 70s came into their own, blasting downwind towards Plymouth at speeds with boat speeds in the upper twenties. This high speed run continued until the early morning hours, when the boats slowed considerably in the lighter breezes on the approach to the finish in Plymouth, when Ian Walker’s Azzam emerged narrowly ahead of Groupama 4 and Franck Cammas.

With all three teams having successfully survived the testing conditions of the Fastnet Race unscathed, as well as each breaking the previous monohull course record, the crews will have plenty of positives to take from the experience.

However, with the start of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 set for 29 October in Alicante the clock is ticking and all three boats stopped only briefly in Plymouth before heading off to their respective team training bases to continue their preparations for the main event.

It was a hectic race to Plymouth. Don't expect the pace to let up just because it's over.

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Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race

Groupama Sailing Team, skippered by Frankc Cammas from France, at the finish of the Rolex Fastnet Race.

Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, skippered by Ian Walker from the UK, at the finish of the Rolex Fastnet Race.

Tim Stonton/Volvo Ocean Race

UK, Solent. 8th August 2011. Team Sanya training in the Solent, in the lead up to the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.