LES SABLES D'OLONNE, France -- Marc Guillemot and four other Frenchmen took a first-day lead Sunday in the sixth edition of the Vendee Globe solo around-the-world yacht race.
Defending champion Vincent Riou set a quick early pace in the ultimate test of single-handed sailing endurance. Riou sailed away from Les Sables d'Olonne on France's western coast under gray skies before being joined by French compatriot Sebastien Josse.
About seven hours into the race, Guillemot, Kito de Pavant, Roland Jourdain, Michel Desjoyeaux and Jean-Pierre Dick were in the lead, all within less than one nautical mile of each other.
The 30-strong fleet, which includes two women, is still at least two months from the finish.
In 2004, Riou beat Jean Le Cam of France by less then seven hours after 87 days and 10 hours battling sleep deprivation and rough seas.
More than 300,000 spectators at sea and on land cheered Sunday's launch of the nonstop, 27,000-nautical mile journey.
The fleet heads toward the three great capes -- Good Hope, Horn and Leeuwin -- and marks the southern tips of Africa, Australia and the Americas.