Shot across the bow as Ellison accuses Cup rival of 'cheating'

America's Cup challenger Larry Ellison has lobbed another incendiary into the simmering row with rival Ernesto Bertarelli by raising the issue of cheating, with the first race due to take place tomorrow.

In a contemptuous criticism of Switzerland's Bertarelli, the Oracle software billionaire said: "He and I were friends, but he's a peculiar guy with a peculiar perspective on the world and what's fair. What broke us apart was when he issued a crazy set of rules for the next Cup [after winning in 2007] where only he can win.

"How can the winner hijack the Cup and hold it hostage to a biased set of rules? Look at the rules and tell me if that's not cheating. It's very hard to respect someone like that.

"We told Ernesto that all we wanted was to go back to the rules of the last, 32nd America's Cup. We don't understand these new rules where the umpires work for you. If the umpires worked for me I could beat Roger Federer at tennis. He wanted to be able to change the rules at any time and dismiss any competitor for any reason.

"I talked to him on the phone and asked why he was doing this. I don't think I'd feel good about winning if I couldn't lose. He should feel ridiculous and embarrassed that he proposed those rules."

In reply, Alinghi spokesman Paco Latorre said yesterday: "There were 18 challengers ready to play the game with those rules in November 2008. Only one didn't want to participate, so who's hijacking what?"

As Ellison's team made last-minute adjustments to their amazing triple-hulled 90-foot trimaran, Ellison said he was excited, though he will not be on the boat himself tomorrow.

Ellison insists he is focused on winning two races in a best of three against an equally outrageous catamaran based on the design of similar but much smaller boats, which Bertarelli races at his home club on Lake Geneva.

For the last two years the two sides have been locked in legal disputes over almost every aspect of the event and there is an outstanding hearing in New York on 25 February.

Ellison said he had always beaten Bertarelli when they had raced. Bertarelli responded by saying that as he was driving his own boat, he'd be pleased to see Ellison do the same.

The war of words continues as Ellison said he would boycott a pre-event media function to which he had been invited because his skipper, and Bertarelli's former Cup-winning skipper, Russell Coutts, had "been excluded by name". The fall-out between Bertarelli and Coutts was bad and reconciliation has not been on the agenda.

Bertarelli's Alinghi team says any exclusion of Coutts was not at their request, and the Alinghi skipper, Brad Butterworth, said he had no problem with Coutts.

Butterworth says the dispute is "a cultural thing. The European way is a lot different to the US way. The Americans mistrust the Europeans. In all the negotiations we cannot agree on anything".

So, weather permitting, the two giant craft will be towed out of their berth as dawn comes up over Valencia, a city that has pumped nearly £8m into something which was highly uncertain until less than a fortnight ago. It will take place so far out of sight that a substantial part of it could be in international waters and the competitors may be so far apart at times that they cannot see each other.

They will, in turn, be pushing and nursing machines that have never raced in anger before, are capable of speeds of over 40mph, but will be doing everything they can to avoid that, and are so vulnerable to catastrophic damage that the race could go to the one that can survive the course.

This is not yacht racing as we know it, it is not the America's Cup as we know it. Other challengers, including Keith Mills' Origin team, are praying for the early resumption of sweetness and light.