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19 May 2007, 07:23 pm
French Vs Sweden And Kiwis For The Con Cup
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Congressional Cup 2007
Long Beach, California, USA

As thinly sliced as crepes suzette and as pulsating as a can-can, the fight for the fourth and final slot in the semi-finals of the Long Beach Yacht Club's 43rd ISAF Grade 1 Congressional Cup, presented by Acura, went to France's Damien IEHL on Friday.
After the last three flights of the double round robin were sailed in brisk, chilly breeze reaching 17 knots, IEHL was 2-1 on the day, had won seven of his last eight races and owned tiebreaker advantages over Eugeniy NEUGODNIKOV (RUS) and Brian ANGEL (USA). But his fate had to wait for the outcome of NEUGODNIKOV's final match against the event's leader, France's Mathieu RICHARD (15-3).

When RICHARD beat NEUGODNIKOV by 23 seconds, IEHL was tied with ANGEL and the Russian - each 10-8 for the week - but his crew had the complicated formula all figured out.

'With him,' tactician Fred GUILMIN said, 'It's always the same: we go into the semis on the edge and win.'

French Guaranteed Final Slot

With the week's best record, RICHARD had the privilege of selecting his semi-final opponent, to which he gave some thought.

'If I choose Damien, we are sure to have a French team in the final,' he said.

The semis and finals will be best of three, starting at 11:30 with a 10-mile fleet race among the six non-semifinalists. The total purse will be $41,000, including $10,000 to the winner.

Setting the tone for the most aggressive racing of the week, IEHL started the day with a loss to RICHARD, then beat NEUGODNIKOV and second-place Johnie BERNTSSON of Sweden (13-5). Against the former, he took the Russian 100 metres past the windward mark before bearing away for the first downwind run with a lead he never relinquished.

'We did what we had to do,' IEHL said in perfect English, without relying on his interpreter, Guilmin, at the post-race press conference for the first time this week. 'The match with Eugeniy was very difficult. Thank you to my team. I'm very happy.'

US Near Misses

ANGEL almost made it, sailing a 3-0 day but losing out on the tiebreaker. He knocked local hope Scott DICKSON (USA) out of the chase by winning and tenaciously defending the right side of the course, but he could not do anything about IEHL.

'When you look back at the little mistakes through the week, it's tough,' he said.

Although because of a conflict with the America's Cup the field lacked the usual number of sailing superstars, ANGEL said, 'This crowd [of competitors] brought all of us to a higher level. They're hungrier. Some of them are dinghy sailors just beginning on the bigger boats. They'll be very good in the future.'

Principal Race Officer Randy SMITH conducted a draw for boat selection, although his data left doubt that there were significant differences. Boat No. 6, for example, had not won a race all week (0-15) until RICHARD sailed it to a 3-0 score Friday. Maybe difference is not all in the boats.

New Zealand's Simon MINOPRIO wound up third at 12.75-5 after hovering around the top of the fleet all week. Now he can forget about that pesky quarter-point penalty when everybody starts even in the sailoffs.

RICHARD said, 'I know the big job is tomorrow.'

'We're supremely confident,' MINOPRIO said. 'We'll be sailing the champagne races tomorrow.'

About The Event

The total purse will be $41,000, including $10,000 to the winner.

Spectators have free seating for the racing on Belmont Pier, site of the start and finish lines. Food and beverages are available in a new patio setting. Veteran local sailor Steve STEINER, a former Con Cup competitor, offers expert commentary. Video highlights produced by t2p.tv are available nightly on the event website www.lbyc.org/concup/.

The event is managed by about 300 LBYC volunteers, including hostess teams for each crew. The competitors, six to a crew, rotate 10 Catalina 37s. Each team will race every other team twice. The six that fail to reach Saturday's semi-finals will sail a 10-mile fleet race on the final championship day.

Acura, the luxury division of American Honda Motor Co., Inc., is the presenting sponsor of the Congressional Cup.

For all the news on the Congressional Cup CLICK HERE.

Rich Roberts (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Mathieu RICHARD and crew lead Eugeniy NEUGODINKOV in the final round robin race:© Rich Roberts
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