ALICANTE, Spain (AP) – Dongfeng Race Team, the Chinese-backed crew whose hopes of victory in the Volvo Ocean Race were rocked when they had to quit the fifth leg because of a broken mast, have bounced back by taking the lead Sunday in the next 5,010-nautical mile stage from Brazil to the U.S.

Dongfeng mast broke about 200 nautical miles from Cape Horn last month and they were forced to limp to Argentina for some makeshift repairs before a new rig was fitted in Itajaí, Brazil.

The sixth leg from Itajaí to Newport, Rhode Island, is promising to be even more closely fought than the previous stages since the race started in Alicante, Spain, last October.

After approaching 1,500 nautical miles of sailing in a week, all six boats in the fleet are bunched within 20 nautical miles of each other with Dongfeng protecting a narrow 5.7 nautical-mile advantage early Sunday over Dutch boat, Team Brunel, with Spanish challengers MAPFRE 1.3 nautical miles further adrift.

For the first time, the all-women’s crew of Team SCA (Sweden) are serious challengers for leg honors, 9.5 nautical miles off the pace with Saturday’s pace-setters Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.) 6.2 nautical miles behind them and overall race leaders, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, bringing up the rear, 19.7 nautical miles off the lead.

This leg, unlike the previous stage that was contested in the roughest of conditions in the Southern Ocean, is a mainly tactical battle in shifting winds, but is no less challenging.

Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier (France), whose boat is second in the overall standings and seven points behind leaders Abu Dhabi before leg six, admitted in his latest blog on Sunday that he was feeling the pressure.

“The wind is very light and unstable and each of the boats has good and bad phases,” he wrote. “It’s hard on the nerves, no gain is ever for keeps.

“This Volvo Ocean Race is really something else. The move to a one-design boat has really changed the race and made it even tougher. The permanent contact with our competitors is tiring and stressful.”

The boats are expected to reach Newport around May 7 after close to three weeks of sailing from Brazil through the Atlantic.

After this leg, they have three more stages to negotiate, finally completing the 38,739 nautical-mile, nine-month offshore marathon in the final week of June in Gothenburg, Sweden.


Overall standings (after five legs, lowest points wins): 1 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 9 points, 2 Dongfeng Race Team (China) 16, 3 Team Brunel (Netherlands) 18, 4 Team Alvimedica (U.S./Turkey) 19, 5 MAPFRE (Spain) 20, 6 Team SCA (Sweden) 29.

© Associated Press