Vendee Globe: How sailing's toughest race was won

Story highlights

  • Armel Le Cleac'h wins in record 74 days
  • Alex Thomson second in Vendee Globe

Shirley Robertson is a two-time Olympic sailing champion and host of CNN's Mainsail. She reflects on the Vendee Globe, a grueling sailing race that was won Thursday by Frenchman Armel Le Cleac'h after more than 70 days at sea. You can learn more about the race in February's edition of Mainsail.

Les Sables d'Olonne (CNN)Some call the Vendee Globe the "Everest of the seas," and while it's a rather lazy comparison, it's hard to argue against.

Circumnavigating the planet, alone for 25,000 miles, non-stop -- that would be a long way in a plane, let alone on a boat.
The attrition rate can be brutal. Usually, only half the sailors who start the race in western France can be expected to make it back there for the finish.
    And it was Frenchman Armel Le Cleac'h who returned to Les Sables d'Olonne victorious Thursday, winning the race in a new fastest time of 74 days, three hours, 35 minutes and 46 seconds.
    The 2016-17 edition will be remembered for records tumbling, unbelievable speeds, and incredible machines "flying" on hydrofoils across the world's oceans.
    British sailor Alex Thomson, who finished 15 hours behind Le Cleac'h in second, reached the equator in record time.
    The records for reaching all three landmark Capes -- South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin in Australia and Cape Horn on the southernmost tip of Chile -- have also fallen.
    It's been a frantic pace, Le Cleac'h averaging a speed of 16 knots for every second of every minute.
    These incredible speeds have culminated in a new 24-hour record for Thomson on board Hugo Boss, who covered 536.81 miles in a day.
    But with speed comes stress. Living on the edge, pedal hard down, day and night, night and day -- It's hard to fully appreciate just how tough that is.
    Le Cleac'h is known as the "Jackal' and it's not hard to see why.
    Twice runner up, his preparation, confidence and cool decision-making under unimaginable stress has impressed the hardiest of sailors.
    Chasing him to the very end was Thomson. The closest of duels, their battle gripped France.
    Half a million people gathered to wave them goodbye, Thursday they welcomed home a hero.