ALEX Thomson’s bid to challenge for an early lead in the Vendée Globe was dealt a cruel blow after the Hampshire skipper was struck down with flu less than a week into the 24,000-mile solo round the world race.

The 38-year-old from Gosport started the race strongly, reaching as high as fourth place in the fleet in the 72 hours following Saturday’s start.

But after reporting that he was feeling ill yesterday, Hugo Boss skipper Thomson slipped down the rankings and was last night in tenth position more than 110 miles behind French leader Francois Gabart.

“Helpfully I am not very well at the moment,” he said. “The family all came down with a bug in Les Sables and I guess I fought it off for a while, but now it has got me.

“I have real man-flu symptoms – a temperature, chesty cough and feeling like dying might be a better option.”

Twenty of the world’s best solo sailors left Les Sables d’Olonne in France on Saturday to compete in the race, largely regarded as the toughest challenge in sailing.

The non-stop course, which takes the skippers south round the bottom of Africa and South America before returning to Les Sables, is expected to take up to three months to complete.

“I was thinking about calling in sick today but I have just got too much on my plate and no one to help out,” Thomson joked.

Enjoying much better fortunes was fellow Hampshire skipper Mike Golding, trailing the leaders by 73 miles in fifth place.

The 52-year-old from Warsash, skipper of Gamesa, was revelling in escaping an area of light wind north of Madeira.

“We are through the worst of the light winds and have about 20 knots now,” he said.

“It is not too bad.”

Up to 13th place was Hamble’s Sam Davies on her yacht Saveol.

“Yesterday was pretty full-on and for once I was hoping that the light winds would last a long time so that I could get my jobs done, plus change Saveol from light downwind mode to strong upwind mode,” she said.

Last night there were just 17 boats still racing, with nearly 500 miles splitting first to last.

Marc Guillemot was forced to retire less than a day into racing after the keel on his yacht Safran fell off, while Kito de Pavant and Louis Burton both suffered unrepairable damage after hitting fishing boats.