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Alinghi wins Louis Vuitton Cup

Russell Coutts
Ernesto Bertarelli (right) lured Russell Coutts (left) from Team New Zealand

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Who will win the America's Cup?

Team New Zealand

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (CNN) -- Swiss yacht Alinghi has won the Louis Vuitton Cup and the right to challenge for the America's Cup starting February.

While light winds Sunday led to a nearly two hour postponement, the race between Alinghi and America's Oracle on the Hauraki Gulf started in a 8-knot breeze, with Alinghi winning the contest to take a 5-1 lead in the best of nine races.

The series resumed after a lay day Saturday and the Swiss team now advances to face Team New Zealand in the America's Cup contest starting February 15.

On Friday Alinghi beat Oracle BMW Racing by 13 seconds to establish a 4-1 lead.

The prospect of an all-Kiwi America's Cup final between Alinghi skipper Russell Coutts, who led Team New Zealand to victory in 1995 and 2000, and his former teammates led by his protégé Dean Barker was hardly the planned finale of five months of racing that New Zealand had hoped for.

Ever since Swiss pharmaceutical billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli lured Coutts and five of his teammates from Team New Zealand with multi-million dollar salaries shortly after the end of the last Cup in April 2000, Coutts and his ex-Kiwi crew have faced a continuing campaign of harassment and vilification in their home country.

This led to the controversial Blackheart campaign waged on billboards, on the Internet and in the press against the ex-Team New Zealand personnel in many of the challenging teams including Oracle, OneWorld and Prada, culminating in serious threatening letters to Coutts, his crew and their families.

Armed bodyguards now protect Coutts and key Alinghi crew wherever they go and the team regularly faces a barrage of quayside hecklers every time they leave the dock.

Such is the atmosphere of animosity against former Team New Zealand members that the normally reticent Craig McCaw, the US telecommunications billionaire who funded the OneWorld campaign with Paul Allen from Microsoft, has publicly stated he will not challenge again if the America's Cup is held in New Zealand.

Apart from the intense sense of sporting betrayal felt by much of the New Zealand population, an Alinghi win would also have serious economic consequences with loss of revenues of up to $700 million in each Cup cycle.

It was no surprise that there was a roaring welcome from the crowds when Oracle returned to the dock after their unexpected 2 minute 13 second victory over Alinghi on Thursday, Coutts' biggest losing margin in forty Louis Vuitton races dating back as far as 1992.

The alternate scenario of Oracle racing Team New Zealand in the Cup is, however, hardly more enticing, as skipper Chris Dickson and designer Bruce Farr are also Kiwi deserters.

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