Abu Dhabi hold lead over Dongfeng

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Rival skippers Ian Walker and Charles Caudrelier were both planning to turn birthday party poopers as their rivalry in the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race went down to the wire on Friday.

Briton Walker and his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew led Caudrelier’s Dongfeng Race Team by just four nautical miles (nm) with around 250nm left to sail of the 5,264nm leg from Sanya, China, to Auckland, New Zealand.

They are expected to arrive late on Saturday night local time.

Both men were celebrating birthdays this week – Walker turned 45 on Thursday and Caudrelier had his 41st birthday on Friday.

According to Frenchman Caudrelier, the overall race leader after the first three legs, Walker has so far had the best of the gifts from the weather gods in the last 24 hours.

“This morning I woke up, a 41-year-old onboard this boat, leading leg four of the Volvo Ocean Race,” he wrote in his daily blog from the boat. “I’m spoiled.

“Yesterday, it was Ian Walker’s birthday; we exchanged some nice, fun emails about our respective gifts. Tonight we’ve been the victims of a cruel squall, which destroyed in 30 minutes the three days of effort we’ve made to catch up and overtake Ian and his men.

“Without wind for 30 minutes, we went backwards against the swell while Abu Dhabi sped up to 18 knots, three miles from us.

“That was his gift. I’m waiting for mine before the end of the leg.”

The pair look destined to be the closest of rivals throughout the nine-month, 38,739nm race, which will be decided over nine legs in all before the conclusion in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27.

They are currently one point apart after three stages with third leg winners Dongfeng Race Team narrowly holding the upper hand.

It is by no means, however, a two-horse race – or leg.

MAPFRE (Spain) could well be cast in the role of party spoilers on Saturday night.

They lay just 0.7nm behind Dongfeng Race Team (0040 GMT) and were quite capable of catching one, if not both, of the leading boats and claiming their first leg win of the race.

Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.), Team Brunel (Netherlands) and Team SCA (Sweden) looked likely to be contesting the minor placings although a late, windless ‘park-up’ near the finish could yet lead to a surprise.