French record-breaking skipper Armel Le Cleac'h's hopes of adding the Route du Rhum to his Vendee Globe triumph appeared sunk on Thursday barely a day into the celebrated solo transatlantic race.
Le Cleac'h, 45, was forced to head back to shore after the daggerboard (a retractable keel) snapped on his boat less than 24 hours after setting off from the Brittany port of Saint Malo.
One of the favourites among the 138-strong flotilla to cross the finish line in Guadeloupe first, he earned his place in sailing's history books when winning the solo round-the-world Vendee Globe in a fastest ever time of 74 days and three hours in 2017.
His last attempt at the Route du Rhum in 2018 ended with a near-death experience.
His boat capsized after a violent collision with an unidentified object off the Azores, the Portuguese archipelago in mid-Atlantic. He was in the cockpit at the time, and after triggering his rescue flare was eventually picked up by a fishing trawler 12 hours later.
Four years on from that calamity he was in the leading trio of boats when he heard "a crack".
"He found the centerboard under the bottom of the hull broken," his Banque Populaire team reported.
"Armel informed us of the problem which requires him to return to Lorient so that we can analyse the situation," said his team's race director Ronan Lucas.