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French skipper Charlie Dalin became the first to cross the finish line at the end of the solo round-the-world Vendee Globe on Wednesday, but that is no guarantee that he will win the epic race.

The 36-year-old’s Apivia yacht led a five-boat sprint for the line at Les Sables d’Olonne in Brittany, northern France, after 80 days and 28,000 often hazardous miles at sea.

But the ninth edition of sailing’s ‘Everest’ could still have a first ever non-French winner.

German skipper Boris Herrmann in Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco was just 82.02nm behind Dalin in the final stretch.

He could still end up the winner as he is due a six-hour bonus for his part in the rescue of Kevin Escoffier off the Cape of Good Hope in December.

Louis Burton (Bureau Vallee 2) was third, followed by Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) and Yannick Bestaven (Maitre Coq IV) back in fifth.

Bestaven, like Herrmann, helped in Escoffier’s rescue and will receive a 10hr 15min bonus when he makes port.

While Dalin and Herrmann had taken a more easterly route, the next three boats were all further north and further west and moving faster. The three pursuers had all covered more ocean in the previous four hours than the two leaders.

Bestaven said he was looking forward to the finish.

“I’m super happy to finish already because we’ve been around the world for 79 days or nearly 80,” he said. “To have such a tight and breathless finish, it’s true that it’s exciting, but also exhausting because, not to hide it from you, we are pushing hard on the boats here, so we can’t wait for it to finish.”

For Dalin, dry land remained a distant dream just hours before his arrival.

“It’s been such a long time that I’ve been at sea that I’ve forgotten that life on land exists. I’m so used to being here on Apivia that I find it impossible to believe the finish is close,” he said.

For race director Jacques Caraes, the winner could be decided by “a matter of minutes” after around 28,000 often hazardous miles at sea.

“This is totally unique,” he said.

Ruyant’s team manager Marcus Hutchinson told the Vendée website that he hoped his sailor would win but was enjoying the drama.

“Here we are 24 hours or a bit more from the finish and we just don’t know how this is going to pan out,” said Hutchinson. “So thank you to all of these skippers, they have made this an incredible sporting spectacle like we have never seen on this race.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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