Thomson falls just short after exciting Vendee Globe finale

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[January 20, 2017]  By Julien Pretot

LES SABLES D'OLONNE, France (Reuters) - For Alex Thomson, sweeping up his crying two-year-old daughter Georgia in his arms soothed the disappointment of falling just short in the Vendee Globe after two-and-a-half months at sea.

Next to them were Kate, the 42-year-old Thomson's wife, and Oscar, their six-year-old son who saw his father return from the solo round-the-world adventure for the second time after he took third place in 2013.

Greeted by a gorgeous morning light and hundreds of spectators in Les Sables d'Olonne on France's Atlantic coast, Thomson was all smiles despite the exhaustion after barely sleeping in the past few days as he hunted down eventual winner Armel Le Cleac'h of France, who won in a record time of 74 days, three hours and 35 minutes aboard Banque Populaire on Thursday.Thomson sailed with a broken foil in the last eight weeks before taking Hugo Boss home almost 16 hours after the Frenchman, who was also at the finish to congratulate his rival.

"It's funny because a few days out you almost don't want to have that many people because it's a bit daunting but coming to Les Sables d'Olonne for the second in beautiful weather, I feel blessed," said Thomson. "I'm looking forward to getting some sleep, seeing my family and having my life back."

Thomson was in the lead when his starboard foil broke, resulting in him falling behind by a massive 800 nautical miles off Africa's notoriously stormy Cape Horn.

"To be crippled on one side was really painful. I had to deal with that, stay positive, that was the most difficult challenge," he said.

However, he beat the record for the longest distance covered solo in 24 hours and then cut his distance from the frontrunner down to about 35 miles, before fading in the finale.

"I was the hunter and he was the hunted so I did not feel stressed at all. It must have been horrible for Armel," said Thomson, now the most successful non-French skipper on the Vendee Globe along with compatriot Ellen MacArthur, who came second in 2001.

"I've spent the whole race wondering what could have happened if the foil hadn't broken, but it did. Congratulations to Armel, what a great race he had and he thoroughly deserved to win. He's not called' The Jackal' for nothing."

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British sailor Alex Thomson waves as he completes the solo round-the-world Vendee Globe sailing race in second place, as he arrives in the port of Les Sables d'Olonne, France, January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Le Cleac'h said: "You (Alex) made my life hard. I was under tremendous pressure from Alex. He pushed me until the end."

Brian Thompson, fifth in the Vendee Globe in 2009, told Reuters: "I'm overwhelmed how well Alex has done with the handicap of breaking his foil. To me, he would have won the race without a doubt if he hadn't broken his foil.

"I think he's won the hearts of the French, which is not easy if you're non-French and especially English."

With Le Cleac'h having already said he will not take part in the next edition, Thomson is expected to have another go at it.

Asked if he would start the next Vendee Globe in 2020, Thomson replied: "You'll have to ask my wife.

"May we ask her?" a reporter said.

"No. Let me do some work on her first," he answered.

First, some sleep.

"I've slept five hours in the last three days and in the last 24 hours I haven't slept at all. I'm running on empty and looking forward to some sleep," said Thomson.

(Additional reporting by Tessa Walsh; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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