Almost there

Alinghi 20 points clear in final event of the iShares Cup

Saturday September 20th 2008, Author: Helen Fretter, Location: United Kingdom
Alinghi went into day two of the iShares Cup final in flying form, and they kept the momentum going with another win in the opening race - their fifth first in a row. The America's Cup defenders and event leaders then went on to claim two more victories, calmly working their way through the fleet to steal past Volvo Ocean Race in the last, after Herbert Dercksen and the all-Dutch crew led all the way round - to huge applause from the assembled Dutch crowd as hundreds of spectators lined the seawalls along Java Island. The racecourse in the IJ-Haven is just 200m by 700m long, with buildings either side giving spectators a ringside seat of the action in a sailing stadium right in the heart of the cosmopolitan capital city.

Alinghi are now 20 points clear of second-placed BT, with their title rivals TeamOrigin back in third, but with another 70 points up for grabs tomorrow the team aren't counting on victory just yet. Alinghi tactician Rodney Arden said: "Just to win a couple more races is great and we've extended our lead slightly from TeamOrigin, which for us is the important thing. But we've still got another long day ahead of us tomorrow with six races - and a double-points last race so it's as good as seven races - but we wouldn't trade places, that's for sure."

All season Alinghi have demonstrated an amazing ability to pull back through the fleet, and in the narrow and shifty waterway of the IJ-Haven in Amsterdam this skill has stood them in great stead. "I think with these downwind starts it doesn't hurt to be at the back, but of course by the time you get to the bottom mark you want to be in the top half of the fleet," explained Arden. "A couple of times we haven't quite made it but we've managed to work our way through the fleet by keeping ourselves in pressure and sailing well tactically."

As nearly every team took a turn at the front - and the back - of the fleet, the orange Dutch boat Holmatro scored the second victory of the day, and Shirley Robertson on JPMorgan Asset Management took race five.

Hugh Styles and iShares led the fleet around for most of race four, but it was BT, skippered by Nick Moloney, who claimed the winner's gun - added to their win from yesterday and a rash of top three results this puts BT in second place overall at Round 5 - right between Alinghi and TeamOrigin.

Helmsman Darren Bundock replaces Andrew Walsh for this event, and was pleased to have bolstered the team's chances of taking third in the European Series: "It's fantastic that we can mix it up with the America's Cup guys, especially being a really fresh team for this event with me just stepping in and the other guys have been full-on for the whole season. It's great for the BT team to be right up there at this event, with our goal of being on the overall podium, and I think we've started the first two days in an ideal situation," he said.

"Tomorrow we've just got to go out there and not make any major mistakes or do anything really special, but just be in front of Holmatro and Oman Sail. It's really tricky sailing on the harbour here and anything could happen," Bundock added.

BT, Oman Sail and Holmatro have been battling it out all day, with the umpires kept busy at every mark rounding - mistakes proved costly as crews struggled to complete their penalty turns in the light airs.

"The racing's so close here and with the breeze being really puffy everyone's coming into the marks about the same time," explained Bundock. "We had a little bit of trouble today and had to do two penalties but I think everyone's been doing that. They're gonna happen for sure because of the confined area where we're racing, but I think if you can keep them to a minimum then you'll do quite well."

Tomorrow all eyes will be on Alinghi's main rivals for the iShares Cup trophy: British America's Cup challengers TeamOrigin. On board TeamOrigin today was triple Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie, racing as 'fifth man'. "There are some of the top sailors in the world here," said Ainslie.

Skipper Rob Greenhalgh and the TeamOrigin crew got off to a slow start today, but then put in a steady stream of top three places to boost them up to third on the Amsterdam leaderboard - can they recapture their earlier winning form? "We didn't have too bad a day, we just did the best we could. We made a place up overall but we're a long way off the lead," said helmsman Rob Grenhalgh after racing.

So what are their chances of overall victory? " Alinghi have got a 30-point lead on us now so unless something miraculous happens tomorrow we've probably got to kiss it goodbye," Greenhalgh said. But with more breeze forecast for tomorrow, anything could happen in the action-packed Extreme 40 fleet - and we can be sure that TeamOrigin will be fighting as hard as they can to get back in front.

The last showdown on the five-event European circuit begins tomorrow at 1.00pm. Six races are scheduled, including the double-points grand finale. The iShares Cup will also be on Dutch national television station NOS-Studio Sport tomorrow, broadcast on channel NED 1 at 18.10pm on Sunday 21 September.

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