Sailing: Bertarelli takes on Ellison

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Only the America's Cup could take time out to mount a multi-million dollar sideshow, but, behind the froth and bubbles of the Moet Cup is San Francisco in September, the pace of organising the first European defence in 2007 is quickening.

On the surface, the head-to-head clash of the billionaires Ernesto Bertarelli, whose Alinghi team ripped both the Cup and the heart out of New Zealand in February/March, and the Oracle computer software boss, Larry Ellison, may look like some esoteric private wager that usually belongs in the salons privés of casinos or lofty boxes on the racecourse.

But both teams will be fielding new crew line-ups as part of easing their programmes back into at least half pace after a long break.

The Moet format offers five morning races, during which Bertarelli and Ellison will do battle with Alcatraz as a backdrop, and seven afternoon races when Russell Coutts and Gavin Brady, the man recently appointed by Ellison's CEO Chris Dixon, take over. All count towards the best combined score.

The prize is a life-sized silver model of a Methuselah (which holds the equivalent of eight bottles) of Moet but the objective is to start a structured build-up to Alinghi's 2007 defence while also giving the America's Cup management team an opportunity to see how they will format a series of Regattas beginning next September in Newport, Rhode Island, including a seeding Regatta in the defence venue.

That is still the subject of intense speculation and competition but the latest front runners are Valencia and Naples, with the Spanish city the preferred choice of the sailors.

The inclusion of Moet, part of the LVMH group, and a decision by Louis Vuitton, for 20 years the sponsor and organiser of the series to find the ultimate challenger, indicates an acceptance by the luxury goods group to meet what is expected to be a vastly increased cost of running the event. The unanswered question is how many teams will similarly be able to meet the big budgets required.