Sailing; Late surge by French crew ends Alinghi's winning run

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The Independent Online

The French had already felled the mighty Emirates Team New Zealand, but had to work all night to fix a major crack in the deck. The new carbon-fibre bandage hardly had time to set before they headed to the race course.

European delight was doubled as Italy's favourites, Luna Rossa, formerly Prada, had also come off best in a titanic struggle with a revamped BMW Oracle, where Peter Isler as navigator and Bertrand Pacé as tactician form a happier unit with skipper Chris Dickson.

Worse was to come for the previous holders. The series title was still there for Alinghi as helmsman Ed Baird squared up to Dickson and Luna Rossa's James Spithill clashed with TNZ's Dean Barker. A split spinnaker cost Spithill any chance and Dickson walloped Baird, but, with all four on nine wins, the tie-breaker gave it to Alinghi, with TNZ second, Luna Rossa third and Oracle only fourth.

From the first of these warm-up regattas in Marseille last year, which felt more like a massive junket for sponsors, the teams have changed their approach. Race pressure sharpens both shore and race team management more effectively than any in-house training. No one wants to lose. Even if there is an obvious top quartet, the racing has been enthralling.

The America's Cup, on the road to Sweden as well as Italy, has changed forever and the successes of 2005 could lead to a rolling international programme of structured competition.

The base for the 2007 defence in Valencia offers a place to watch the racing on a big screen during the day, or for families to stroll in the evening. Thousands poured through the turnstiles there, but 101,200 are reported to have crowded the race village in Trapani last Sunday. A previous rather snooty aloofness and obsessive secrecy can no longer prevail.

Not that all the paranoia has gone and nor has the spying. Teams due to build new boats and develop go-faster gear are reluctant to put everything on show early for fear of it being copied by their rivals.