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Prada Ends U.S. Cup Hopes

Prada America's Cup
AP

The America's Cup won't be returning to America.

Prada skipper Francesco de Angelis made sure of that Sunday, sailing brilliantly and beating AmericaOne by 49 seconds in the deciding race of the challenger finals.

So the shiny silver pitcher that United States boats had held from 1851 through 1983 will stay in Auckland or move to Italy if Prada can beat defending champion New Zealand in the best-of-9 Cup finals starting Feb. 19.

For de Angelis, it was an improbable victory. In his first America's Cup campaign, he had let a 3-1 lead turn into a 4-3 deficit in the best-of-9 series. Then he won by 37 seconds Saturday, setting up the winner-take-all race.

For Paul Cayard, skipper of AmericaOne, it was a devastating loss. He was in his fifth America's Cup campaign and was on a roll after winning three straight races. Instead, his third turn as a Cup skipper ended like the other two in defeat.

Prada won the start by a second Sunday, a meaningless edge. What was important was deAngelis' decision to sail up the right side of the 18 1/2-mile Hauraki Gulf Course. The up-and-back course has six legs three into the wind and three with the wind coming from behind.

During the prestart maneuvering, Prada was concerned it would hit the starting line too early, forcing it to circle behind and lose precious time.

The stronger wind on the right pushed Prada to a 34-second lead after the first leg, into the wind. That allowed de Angelis to dictate tactics and he stretched the advantage to 39 seconds after the second leg and 47 midway through the race.

He kept pushing and flew to the horizon with leads of 52 seconds after the fourth leg and 1:06 after the fifth.

Cayard had just one leg, a short 3 1/4 miles of blue water, to try to catch the silver-and-gray leader, a virtually impossible task barring an equipment catastrophe on Prada.

Instead, there was a celebration.

As de Angelis cruised across the finish line, his crew members shook hands and embraced. A passenger on Prada's tender waved an Italian flag as the boat, which carries non-sailing team members, pulled alongside.

One Prada sailor shook a huge bottle of champagne, popped the cork and soaked his teammates.

Patrizio Bertelli, the primary backer of the campaign estimated at about twice the amount of Cayard's $32 million effort, wore a red vest and a wide smile as he boarded the yacht and shook hands vigorously with de Angelis.

Then the winning skipper lifted the bottle of champagne and took a long drink.

As hard as he tried, Cayard, sailing for the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, could do nothing about it. For the first time in America's Cup history, an American boat won't be in the finals.

In Cayard's two previous campaigns as helmsman, he lost in the challenger finals in 1992 and the Cup finals in 1995. But he's also a six-time world champion in other boats and won the grueling Witbread Round the World Race in 1998.

Prada had taken a 3-1 lead, but two of those resulted from equipment damage and a penalty on AmericaOne. Then AmericaOne won the next three races, reinforcing Cayard's reputation as a skipper who can't be rattled.

In 1992, he was at the helm of an Italian boat, Il Moro di Venezia, that trailed the challenger finals 3-1. But he won the next four races and went on to the Cup finals, where he lost 4-1 to Bill Koch's Stars & Stripes.

He couldn't repeat that comeback this time.

The race began 50 minutes late as officials waited for the fluky winds on the Hauraki Gulf to pick up. They finally did, blowing from the southwest at 10-14 knots at the start.

About 30 seconds before the start, a Prada crewman warned de Angelis that he might reach the starting line too early. "Be careful," the sailor said.

De Angelis was.

The United States won the first 25 competitions, starting in 1851 when the schooner America, representing the New York Yacht Club, beat 14 other boats in one race around the Isle of Wight in England.

At the time, the trophy presented to the winner was called the 100 Guineas Cup, the amount it cost. It later was renamed for the first winner.

The first defense came in 1870, a 35-mile race off New York City with 14 NYYC boats going against England's Cambria, which finished 10th. Magic was the winner.

There were 11 more successful defenses in New York before the scene shifted to Newport, R.I., in 1920. American boats won 13 consecutive defenses there. But the nation's streak of 25 Cup triumphs ended in 1983 in Newport when John Bertrand's Australia II beat Dennis Conner's Liberty.

Conner regained the Cup in Fremantle, Australia, in 1987 and Americans retained it in 1988 and 1992 before New Zealand swept Young America, sailed by Cayard, 5-0 in San Diego in 1995.

If Cayard wants to keep trying, he'll have to sail in hostile waters again.

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