The 40-year-old Basque sailor, who has taken part in the Volvo Ocean Race four times previously, won Olympic gold in Athens 2004, and followed that up with a silver in 2008 – both times alongside his long-term sailing partner Iker Martínez.
The two men shared leadership duties during MAPFRE’s 2014-15 campaign but with Iker making the decision to focus on other professional projects, Xabi will take sole charge of the Spanish boat this time.
“The Volvo Ocean Race is an enormously difficult challenge combining human adventure, world-class sport, technical expertise, logistics on a global scale, and a unique communications platform,” he said.
“Being fortunate enough to be back on the start line, with a chance to claim victory, is something that we are very proud of, and I’m thankful to MAPFRE for believing in a project that began back in 2014.”
Xabi will return to the Volvo Ocean Race after finishing his work for Sir Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup campaign, Land Rover BAR. He has previously competed in the Volvo Ocean Race onboard movistar in 2005-06, Teléfonica Blue in 2008-09, and Teléfonica in 2011-12, before joining MAPFRE for the last edition.
“The short-term objectives are, firstly, to finish the work on the boat and take delivery from The Boatyard in Lisbon at the end of the month. Later, we will confirm the rest of the crew with training that begins in Sanxenxo in mid-March", he added.
“We have eight months of hard work and optimisation ahead – not only in terms of the boat, but the performance of the team – so that we can depart Alicante on 22 October with a real possibility of winning.”
MAPFRE competed in the Volvo Ocean Race for the first time in 2014-15, continuing a long-standing tradition that has seen Spanish-flagged boats in eight of the previous 12 editions.
Antonio Huertas, President of MAPFRE, said: “Xabi is a fantastic skipper, who is committed to MAPFRE and shares our values. This addition is magnificent news for the campaign. We know that he will proudly carry the MAPFRE name around the world.”
Pedro Campos, general manager of the team, has been involved in every edition since 2005-06, and is delighted with the appointment.
“There isn’t a sailor in the world that doesn’t respect Xabi’s talent, experience and determination,” he said.
“Last edition, he clearly demonstrated his ability to organise and lead, gaining success such as the Leg 4 victory into Auckland, New Zealand. Without doubt, Xabi is the best possible skipper for MAPFRE.”