LISBON: Spain's Telefonica were struggling at the back of the main fleet and facing the prospect of losing their long-held Volvo Ocean Race lead after getting the worst of the weather for much of Leg 7 across the Atlantic.
At 1pm yesterday, a week after the fleet left Miami, the team skippered by Iker Martinez, an Olympic gold medallist in 2004 and one of Spain's leading hopes for 2012, were down in fifth place, with no obvious way of making up lost ground,
French team Groupama, who trail Telefonica by seven points, were also struggling just ahead of them in fourth but the two other teams in with a chance of outright victory were on the shoulders of surprise leaders Abu Dhabi, a boat that has proved slower at key moments throughout the race.
Resurgent American team Puma, winners of the last two legs and now just 14 points off the lead, looked best positioned to the southwest of the leaders, with Camper, a point closer on the overalls standings, around 20 miles behind them.
Telefonica, who looked untouchable in winning the first three legs, now need to finish in the top three to be sure of holding on to top spot with just two more legs to go.
"There's always a chance but it's going to have to come our way soon," said Telefonica's Jordi Calafat, another of the team's Olympic gold medallist (Barcelona, 1992).
"There are four boats in front and we have to see if we can get past some of them. At the moment, it looks like there'll be another weather front coming our way."
With around four days left to sail in the current leg the race is still finely balanced.
The teams will have completed over 39,000 nautical miles in the round-the-world race, held every three years, by the time they finish in Galway, Ireland in July.
Overall standings after six of nine offshore legs: 1 Telefonica (Spain) 165 points, 2. Groupama (France) 158, 3. Camper (Spain/New Zealand) 152, 4. Puma (U.S.) 151, 5. Abu Dhabi (U.A.E.) 74, 6. Sanya (China) 27.