British solo sailor Alex Thomson will not compete in the next edition of the Vendée Globe, but will throw his support behind another skipper. He also has not ruled out making a return in 2028.
Alex Thomson is one of the most immediately recognisable IMOCA 60 skippers, and also one of the very few sailors who have managed to transcend the sport and become a near household name.
The British sailor has competed in the IMOCA circuit for 19 years, including five successive Vendée Globe races and two podium finishes, as well as numerous world records.
Besides the Vendée Globe, which has always been the event upon which Thomson has been most focussed, the larger-than-life character has pushed the envelope of what can be expected of a skipper in terms of a headline sponsor’s expectations and marketing return.
His 18-year collaboration with Hugo Boss has become the defining sailor / sponsor partnership. Not for nothing has it long been seen as the gold standard relationship of what a British offshore racer can offer a multinational – the Hugo Boss sponsorship deal has survived three different CEOs and CMOs (chief marketing officers) at the German luxury goods brand.
Alex Thomson has done mid-ocean live link-ups with BBC Breakfast news, millions have watched his Keelwalk, Mastwalk and Skywalk videos on social media, he’s hung out with Lewis Hamilton and appeared in glossy magazines like GQ, all with highly visible, recognisable and stylish Hugo Boss branding.
However, Alex Thomson has also delivered serious results, including two podium finishes in the toughest single-handed race of all.
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Everyone knows Alex Thomson. He’s not only one of the most immediately recognisable IMOCA 60 skippers, but one of the…
“What’s my speed? What’s the speed? What’s the boatspeed now?!” Alex Thomson hollers into a microphone. Thomson, at the helm…
The British sailor burst onto the offshore racing scene as the wunderkind who became the youngest ever skipper to win the Clipper Round the World Race in 1999 aged just 25. After a fallow period in which he suffered a series of gear damage, notably retiring from both the 2004 and 2008 Vendée Globe races, he went on to finish 3rd in 2012.
Famously, Alex Thomson said that the 2016/17 Vendée Globe race would be his last. However, after the event, which saw his best finish – a 2nd to Armel Le Cléach despite suffering an early breakage of a key foil – he was inspired to give the race another shot.
But the Vendée is a fickle beast and in the most recent edition of the race, Thomson’s radical Hugo Boss suffered serious structural problems and a rudder failure forcing him to retire and divert to Cape Town.
“For the best part of 20 years this race has been my goal; we’ve come pretty close before and this time I really thought it was possible,” said a distraught Alex Thomson at the time. “I have the boat of my dreams, we put together a campaign I’m extremely proud of and despite the setbacks of the last week I still thought it was possible – to win, or at the very least finish.
“I’ve given my life to this sport and it’s a very difficult pill to swallow.”
Given his previous announcements on stepping down it is, perhaps, no surprise that the Brit is not going to take part in the next edition of the Solo Round the World Race.
“I have had the privilege to compete and race IMOCA 60s for almost 20 years. I love the sport but it’s now time for me to spend more time on land, with my young family,” Thomson has said of his decision.
“My wife Kate has single-handedly raised our children for the last 10 years whilst I have pursued my dream. Now I want to support Kate and allow her the same opportunity that she has given me. This doesn’t mean that I am retiring, just changing my role, from spending most of my time at sea, to spending more of it on land.”
Although he is now to stand aside as a skipper for the Vendée, Thomson is by no means stepping away from the sport of sailing and offshore racing entirely.
“Aside from being a skipper, I have always believed that it is my role to be an ambassador for our sport, telling the story to an international audience,” he says.
“In the last 20 years we have sailed to every corner of the globe, from Russia to Mexico, Canada, Australia, and Taiwan and even up the River Yangtze to Shanghai, China!
“There is a huge global fanbase who follow and love the Vendée Globe. I want to continue to promote the sport, tell the story and share my knowledge and experience, but with a focus on the next generation.”
Thomson and his team 5 West Ltd will remain together, “The goal has always been to win the Vendée Globe, which to me remains the toughest sporting challenge left in the world today, and we haven’t accomplished that yet. This is the start of a new chapter, with a new skipper, and we will provide him or her with all the tools, knowledge, experience and environment to win.”
The question will now be, who will be the skipper to replace Thomson in the quest to win the 2024 Vendée? Thomson has always been a proud Brit and has resisted the urge to base himself and train over the channel amongst his French competitors with their vast wealth if expertise and knowledge in the offshore solo racing scene.
Whoever, the new skipper is, they will certainly benefit from the years of racing, boat building and marketing expertise that have been built over the years from Thomson’s professional and well-prepared operation and so will almost certainly go into the next cycle of the Vendée Globe as a key entry to watch.
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