May 30, 2017 / 3:56 PM / 3 months ago

French underdogs show flair after late America's Cup bid

(Reuters) - Groupama Team France come to the 35th America's Cup as underdogs, the last of the five crews to challenge Oracle Team USA for the coveted sailing trophy.

But although they have had only two years to prepare and are considerably less well funded than their rivals, the pedigree of skipper Franck Cammas means nobody is discounting them.

The French sailing hero was left with titanium screws and plates in his ankle after nearly losing his foot in 2015 when he fell off the high-speed boat, hitting its rudder.

But Cammas has fought back to the peak fitness required to sail the immensely powerful foiling catamaran.

Although their Americas Cup Class boat has so far proved tough to tame in the waters of Bermuda, Cammas said in a pre-qualifier press conference that Groupama had been gaining speed.

After being comprehensively beaten in their first two head-to-head races on Saturday, the French crew showed that they have the speed and started to master their flighty craft on Sunday when they out-raced veterans Artemis Racing.

Groupama Team France did not start competing in the America's Cup World Series until July 2015, after Groupama signed up as title partner a month before, even though Cammas had announced his desire to mount a challenge in December 2013.

Progressing through the qualifiers and into the next round of the event in Bermuda is going to be a big ask for the French team, who have their eye on the next America's Cup after finishing last in the preceding America's Cup World Series.

But with French mastery of multi-hull sailing and a heritage of yacht design, the crew have come a long way in just 20 months, turning into top athletes ready to supply the punishing power required to operate their sleek white-hulled catamaran.

Reporting by Tessa Walsh; editing by Alexander Smith and Pritha Sarkar

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