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Sleeping, not sailing, key to victory, says Vendee Globe doctor

By Julien Pretot

LES SABLES D'OLONNE, France (Reuters) - The biggest challenge facing the Vendee Globe's solo round-the-world racers is sleeping not sailing, according to the gruelling event's doctor Jean-Yves Chauve.

"The big challenge is to be on your own for more than two months," the 67-year-old Chauve, who has been involved in every Vendee Globe since its inception in 1989, told Reuters on Thursday.

"It's an event in which recuperation is actually part of the performance."

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France's Armel Le Cleac'h won the 2017 race in record time on Thursday, crossing the finish line after 74 days three hours 35 minutes and 46 seconds.

He was likely to be suffering from sleep depravation having faced terrible weather conditions on his way back up the Atlantic Ocean.

"In such a race, when you're asleep, you're actually performing. Imagine riding the Tour de France non stop, sleeping on your bike, or the Dakar rally, sleeping while your car is at 150 kph -- that's the Vendee Globe," said Chauve.

The doctor explained that sailors sleep about five hours a day, but in two or three periods.

"Those guys are professional sleepers. If you sleep too much, you'll lose the grip on your settings and if you don't sleep enough, you make strategic mistakes," said the doctor, who himself only sleeps in two-hour periods in case his assistance is required during the race.

The sailors have to go through intense preparation before the race, with special attention paid to the muscles in their legs.

"They must strengthen their legs because the majority of what they do, they do it while sitting so they lose muscles in their legs and that can be a problem if they need to climb up the mast to fix something," said Chauve.

Once a sailor reaches land, his mission is over, but his problems are far from finished, said Chauve.

"They will feel nostalgia after living in extreme conditions for so long. They will have skin problems because of the humidity but most of all, they will struggle to sleep normally," he said.

"It will take them weeks, even months to rediscover normal sleep."

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)