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Swiss gear up for next Cup challenge

Team Alinghi is preparing for battle on the high seas (Alinghi)

Team Alinghi, a favourite in the America's Cup, is busy preparing for the semi-finals of the challengers' qualification event, where it will face Oracle.

Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli's team can expect to face its biggest challenge yet in New Zealand.

Alinghi has so far managed to complete an almost-perfect run in the Louis Vuitton Cup.

After the first two round robin series left the team at the top of the leader board, the Swiss easily beat the Italian Prada syndicate 4-0 in the quarter-finals.

Alinghi only needed three heats to do away with the Italians, but two of them saw the Swiss cross the finish line just eight seconds in front of their opponents.

No room for error

Bertarelli said he was extremely satisfied with his team's performance.

"Our current position means we have a very good chance of reaching the final," he said.

Alinghi's position at the top of the leader board gives it one big advantage: should the Swiss syndicate lose its semi-final against Oracle, it will have a second chance of reaching the final against the winner of the other semi.

Against American billionaire Larry Ellison's team, the Swiss will have no room for the slightest error, tactical or otherwise.

"Against Prada, we had an edge in speed, but we were less efficient in our manoeuvres and tactical decisions, something we can no longer afford," said Alinghi performance analyst, Luc Dubois.

Dubois believes the difference between the two syndicates will boil down to how they handle the boat and what tactics they come up with on the day.

Many sailing specialists had been disappointed by Oracle's early results in the Louis Vuitton Cup, but the same experts are impressed today by the American team's improvement.

Tough opposition

The team's change in fortune coincides with the return to Oracle's helm of Chris Dickson, who had been sidelined at the beginning of the competition following disagreements with the rest of the crew.

Since his arrival, the San Francisco syndicate hasn't lost once in 11 races, including a 4-0 drubbing of their American rivals, OneWorld.

Oracle has more than a few trump cards up its sleeve, not least the fact that with around $100 million (SFr148 million) to play with, the team has the biggest budget of the competition.

Its yachts, designed by the legendary Bruce Farr, are also different to those of the other challengers.

The boats seem to be longer, lighter and carry more sail surface than any of the other syndicates' yachts.

Alinghi has been preparing hard for the semi-finals, which begin on December 9.

"It may seem that we have a lot of time," says Dubois, "but we must be focused, and not let ourselves go. The closer we get to the America's Cup, there will be more importance placed on team performance, manoeuvres and tactics."

The winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup will go on to challenge the New Zealanders - current holders of the America's Cup - for the ultimate prize.

swissinfo, François Egger in Auckland


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