Strong line-up for Toscana Elba Cup - Trofeo Locman

Sean McNeill previews the next event on the Swedish Match Tour

Monday May 3rd 2004, Author: Sean McNeill, Location: Italy
With no rest for the weary and barely a week's rest for others, the Swedish Match Tour rolls into Porto Azzurro on Elba Island, Italy, for the Swedish Match Tour's the third annual Toscana Elba Cup - Trofeo Locman.

The event features a stacked line-up of Swedish Match Tour champions and America's Cup helmsmen all vying for a share of the Euro 100,000 prize money. With Euro 35,000 slated for the winner, the Toscana Elba Cup is one of the more lucrative events on the Tour.

"This is a very strong lineup," said defending champion Magnus Holmberg (SWE, SeaLife Rangers). "It's one of the best I've seen in a long time. It will be very tough to defend our title."

The line-up features the top five on the Swedish Match Tour championship leaderboard: Peter Gilmour (AUS/Pizza-La Sailing Team), Holmberg, Jesper Radich (DEN/Team Denmark), Gavin Brady (NZL/Oracle BMW Racing) and Ed Baird (USA/Team Musto).

Then there's the plethora of America's Cup Class helmsmen led by Russell Coutts. There's also John Cutler (NZL), a veteran Cup campaigner since 1992 who is lining up with Vincenzo Onorato's Italian Mascalzone Latino syndicate, and Paolo Cian (ITA), Onorato's helmsman for Mascalzone Latino in 2002 who is lining up with the Italian Challenge.

Two French syndicates are represented by Bertrand Pacé (Team France), who has sailed at every challenger or defender series in the America's Cup since 1987, and Philippe Presti, who remains with France's le Défi Challenge after a tumultuous Louis Vuitton Cup 2003.

Then there's Karol Jablonski, the ISAF world No. 1-ranked match-racer who represents the Toscana Challenge, and Michael Dunstan (AUS), the 22-year-old nominated skipper of Australia's OzBoyz Challenge.

Racing is scheduled to begin tomorrow, and the draw to determine the schedule will be held at the skippers' meeting in the morning. The 12 skippers will sail a single round robin, with quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds (all best-of-three) to follow.

Baird, the reigning world match racing champion, comes into the event on a roll. After winning the Congressional Cup he jetted to Lake Garda, Italy, where he placed second to Radich in the Garda Trentino Open Match Race.

The IMX 40 that Baird will helm this week is the third different boat he's skippered in the last three weeks after sailing a J/22 at Lake Garda and a Catalina 37 at Long Beach. But he's awed by the challenge.

"Mentally you have to release what happened and start thinking about the new boat," Baird said. "You have to think through what the boats can and can't do. And the guys have to pick up the systems on the new boats. You can do that with notes from past years, and it helps to have the same crew."

Baird competed at the first two Toscana Elba Cups, winning the inaugural edition in 2002 and then falling to 12th last year.

Magnus Holmberg won last year's Toscana Elba Cup when he defeated James Spithill 3-2 in the final, after trailing 2-1. But, having sailed just once since last November, he'll be hard pressed to avoid a drop like Baird experienced last year.

"I've been behind a desk pushing paper," Holmberg said. "It's the longest break I've ever had. But I felt good in practice today. We'll see what happens."

Holmberg's task is even more difficult because the change of venue means last year's notes on the race course won't be applicable. The Toscana Elba Cup - Trofeo Locman was moved to Porto Azzurro on Elba's East Coast from Portoferraio on the north shore.

The racecourse will be placed in the Bay of Porto Azzurro and in a southeasterly wind the course runs parallel to the shorelines. While the close proximity to shore is better for spectator viewing, it also makes for a tight racecourse as the distance between the shorelines is about a half mile.

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