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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 15:30 GMT
Swiss team on a roll
Bertarelli (left) and Coutts (right) celebrate the Louis Vuitton win
Alinghi's power axis: Bertarelli (left) and Coutts

How does a team from land-locked Switzerland come to be challenging for the most coveted trophy in world sailing, the America's Cup?

The answer is with a lot of help from traditional sea-faring nations and thanks to the determination and financial muscle of a mega-rich benefactor.

It is an unlikely tale, but Swiss outfit Alinghi are now five wins from lifting the Auld Mug.

Under the guidance of owner Ernesto Bertarelli, they saw off eight rival challengers to win the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Butterworth (left) and Coutts in action on Alinghi
Kiwi defectors: Butterworth (left) and Coutts

And experts give them a good chance of ending New Zealand's reign as America's Cup champions when the climactic, best-of-nine series gets under way on 15 February.

Bertarelli is the single-most important reason for Alinghi's success.

Swiss-born but educated in the USA, he is worth an estimated 5bn and is one of the wealthiest men in Europe.

A navigator on board Alinghi, Bertarelli's biggest input into the team is the cash he has invested to lure in the best sailors from around the world.

His crew are a cosmopolitan lot.

We are pretty confident in the potential of the boat - the first 20 minutes will largely define the regatta's outcome

Ernesto Bertarelli

During the final Louis Vuitton race against US bid Oracle, they comprised two Swiss, two Americans, a Frenchman, a German, an Italian, a Dutchman, a Canadian, and - intriguingly - seven Kiwis.

The New Zealanders are the subject of this year's major controversy, as two of them - skipper Russell Coutts and tactician Brad Butterworth - were the driving force behind Team NZ's last defence of the America's Cup.

Their defection to Alinghi has spiced things up and not entirely in a good way, with Kiwi sailors receiving threatening letters from so-called "patriotic activists".

Pre-race hysteria aside, Bertarelli's Alinghi are worthy challengers.

German Jochen Schuemann brings a wealth of experience, as well as three Sydney Olympics gold medals, to the crew portfolio.

And Coutts and Butterworth provide perhaps the biggest one-two punch in sailing.

The Swiss bid's dominance of the Louis Vuitton Cup, in which they beat well-funded rivals Prada, OneWorld and Oracle, bodes well for a close final against Team NZ.

But one key question remains: Where does a land-locked America's Cup winner host the next competition?

It is a question Bertarelli will be only too happy to address, should he have occasion to in a few weeks time.

America's Cup

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