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2 April 2005, 09:11 am
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Toscana Elba Cup 2005
Elba, Italy

The third ISAF Grade 1 Match Racing event of 2005 gets underway in five weeks with the Toscana Elba Cup - Trofeo Locman, and the action promises to be dynamite.
An all-star lineup of America's Cup Class helmsmen, both present and past, has accepted invitations to the fourth annual Elba Cup (May 4-8, 2005), which features a 75,000 Euro (approximately $97,000) prize purse.

American Ed BAIRD, ISAF World Match Race Champoin and number one ranked match race, heads the field of luminaries. The newest helmsman in Cup champion Team Alinghi's afterguard, filling the void created by the firing of three-time Cup-winning skipper Russell COUTTS, Baird already has victory from one ISAF Grade 1 event this season when he won the Marseille International Match Race and looks set to continue his winning ways.

Reigning champion Russell COUTTS of New Zealand has also confirmed his intent to compete. Coutts isn't allowed to race with another team in America's Cup 2007 due to his settlement with Alinghi founder Ernesto BERTARELLI, but there are no such restrictions on him competing on the match racing circuit. Coutts, looks to become the first repeat champion of the Elba Cup with his Danish crew featuring Jes GRAM-HANSEN and Christian KAMP.

Last year Coutts got off to a horrendous start at the Elba Cup. Racing with a crew of Alinghi team members, he was just 1-5 and placed twelfth in the field of 12 after the third day. Then he started winning, and next thing everyone realized he'd knocked off Peter GILMOUR (AUS) and the Pizza-La Sailing Team in the final, 2-1. Gilmour, another all-star, returns to Elba with familiar crewmembers Mike MOTTL and Yasuhiro YAJI.

Peter HOLMBERG of the US Virgin Islands is slated to lead a second Alinghi crew. Holmberg helmed Alinghi's SUI-64 in the three Louis Vuitton Acts for the America's Cup last fall, wining Act 3 in Valencia, Spain and placed third at the Portugal Match Cup last July.

Sweden's Magnus HOLMBERG is another past Elba Cup champion (2003) in the lineup. He returns in the colors of Sweden's Victory Challenge for the America's Cup, for which he is assembling the crew.

"The event organizers, Antonio Nappi and his team, have done a phenomenal job putting together this lineup," said Scott MacLEOD. "With so many America's Cup, world and Olympic champions on hand, the field is outstanding'.

The past champions may find the fourth Elba Cup more different than the first three. The IMX 40, the boat of choice for the first three editions, is being replaced in favor of the Swedish Match 40, the Tour's specially designed match-racer from legendary designer Pelle Petterson.

The Swedish Match 40 requires two fewer crew than the IMX 40 and has much lower freeboards, which could make the going wet for crews in the short chop that can be frequent in the spectacular Bay of Porto Azzurro.

The lineup continues with Francesco de ANGELIS of Italy and Australian James SPITHILL, both of Italy's Luna Rossa Challenge. De Angelis hasn't competed in a few years, but Spithill placed second to Coutts in Bermuda last October.

Gavin BRADY (NZL) leads the BMW Oracle Racing Team and France's Thierry PEPONNET makes his Elba Cup debut. An afterguard member of French challengers in 1995 and 2000, Peponnet is skipper and helmsman of France's K-Challenge.

Two British Olympic gold medalists will also be trying their hand at match-racing. Double Olympic gold medallist in the Laser in 2000 and the Finn in 2004, Ben AINSLIE, will be leading a crew from Emirates Team New Zealand. Although confirmation is still forthcoming, Iain PERCY, gold medalist in the Finn class (2000), is expected to represent Italy's +39 Challenge.

Toscana Elba Cup Entrants (as of Mar. 30, 2005)
Ben AISNLIE (GBR) Emirates Team New Zealand
Ed BAIRD (USA) Team Alinghi
Gavin BRADY (NZL) BMW Oracle Racing
Russell Coutts (NZL) Coutts Racing
Francesco de Angelis (ITA) Luna Rossa Challenge
Peter Gilmour (AUS) Pizza-La Sailing Team
Magnus Holmberg (SWE) Victory Challenge
Peter Holmberg (ISV) Team Alinghi
Thierry Peponnet (FRA) K-Challenge
Iain Percy* (GBR) +39 Challenge
James Spithill (AUS) Luna Rossa Challenge
(* unconfirmed)

Sean McNeill (As Amended by ISAF), Image: action from 2004 © 2004 Event Media
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