With just 40 nautical miles separating Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac'h from second-placed Alex Thomson and only 350 nautical miles left to the finishing line, victory in the solo round-the-world race now comes down to one crucial last manoeuvre.

French skipper Le Cléac’h and British contender Thomson, who have been practically neck and neck over the 24,000nm they have covered since the Vendée Globe began on 6 November, have been forced to sail much further north than the latitude of the finishing line in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, by an anticyclone blocking their route home.

But with the centre of the high pressure system moving north-east over the south of England the door to Les Sables will finally open and both skippers will be able to point their bows towards the finishing line.

Herein lies the deciding moment of the Vendée Globe 2016-17: picking the right time to tack.

Aerial shot of Vendee Globe yacht Hugo Boss, skippered by Alex Thomson, off the Kerguelen Islands. Credit: Marine Nationale/Nefertiti/Vendee Globe

Aerial shot of Vendee Globe yacht Hugo Boss, skippered by Alex Thomson, off the Kerguelen Islands. Credit: Marine Nationale/Nefertiti/Vendee Globe

The duo were this morning in decreasing south-easterly winds of 10-12 knots sailing at the latitude of Brest in Brittany. But as they get nearer to the coast the wind is forecast to gradually swing to the north-east and at this moment they will be able to tack onto port and begin the final sprint.

The home strait is marked with pitfalls – the islands of Groix, Belle-Île and Yeu will disturb the breeze, the currents in the area are known to be tricky and the coastline is busy with shipping and fishing traffic. It may just be that these obstacles give Hugo Boss skipper Thomson the opportunity he needs to usurp Le Cléac’h and Banque Populaire from the top spot in the final 36 hours of the race.

Although the advantage is with Banque Populaire VIII skipper Le Cléac’h, the race will not be over until the finishing line is crossed. Indeed, in the 2004-05 Vendée Globe fellow Brit Mike Golding lost his keel 50nm from the finishing line and had to limp home in third place at two knots.

Earlier this week, Thomson smashed the world record for the greatest distance sailed solo in 24 hours notching up 536.81 miles on Hugo Boss. This new record, which took place between 15-16 January, awaits ratification by the World Sailing Speed Record Council.

At 0400 UTC this morning it was Le Cléac’h, runner-up in the last two editions of the Vendée Globe, who had the speed advantage, making just shy of 15 knots compared to Thomson’s 10 aboard Hugo Boss. Both boats are set to arrive in Les Sables tomorrow, Thursday 19 January.

The tracker will update hourly once the leader gets to within 100nm of the finish. More information on how to follow the finish of the Vendée Globe can be found here http://www.Vendeeglobe.org/en/village-for-the-finish/how-to-follow-the-finish

Jérémie Beyou in third. Credit: Vincent Curutchet/DPPI/Vendee Globe

Jérémie Beyou in action. Credit: Vincent Curutchet/DPPI/Vendee Globe

Jérémie Beyou in third, some 800 miles behind, is likely to finish around two and a half days behind Thomson and Le Cléac’h thanks to a relatively stress free final 1,000 miles. The same can’t be said for fourth-placed Jean-Pierre Dick, who has a fight on his hands to defend his position from Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam. Dick faces having to cross a windless patch almost 200nm wide before sailing west of the Azores to lock into an Atlantic depression, providing his chasers with an opportunity to completely wipe out the 60nm that currently lie between them.

Louis Burton in seventh place is into the Doldrums, his speed plummeting to three knots this morning while Nandor Fa in 8th continues to make steady progress north towards the Equator in the South Atlantic trade winds. Conrad Colman was this morning bashing upwind at eight knots despite having 30 knots of breeze but he was twice as quick as Eric Bellion, around 250 miles to the north-west.

Meanwhile Fabrice Amedeo and Arnaud Boissières have opted to skirt the Falkland Islands to the east, in contrast to Alan Roura and Rich Wilson who have chosen a westerly of the British territory. Didac Costa in 15th place was today 600 miles from Cape Horn with Romain Attanasio 100 miles further back. Pieter Heerema in 17th extended his lead on 18th-placed Sébastien Destremau to take the gap splitting them to 1,100nm.

Eleven of the 29 IMOCA 60s that set sail on the 2016/17 Vendée Globe, have so far been forced to abandon the gruelling challenge, due to dismasting, breakages and damage caused from hitting unidentified floating objects.

For the latest results and news updates visit: www.vendeeglobe.org/en/