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KUSADASI, Turkey (VN) — One name surprisingly missing from Lampre-ISD’s list of nine riders heading to the Giro d’Italia is Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi.
Petacchi once ruled the Giro sprints, winning 22 stages during his career, but the 38-year-old sprinter admitted he’s not fit enough to race the Giro this year.
Speaking to VeloNews at the Tour of Turkey, he said he’s OK with team management’s decision to leave him off the nine-man squad for the season’s first grand tour.
“This is my first race since Milan-San Remo. I have had some problems since the beginning of the season,” Petacchi told VeloNews on Saturday. “To race the Giro only after having raced in Turkey would be difficult. The team wants to bring a squad to help (Michele) Scarponi and to earn points, so I can understand.”
Petacchi has had a bumpy ride this season. He’s only raced a few days in Europe, abandoning both Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, and said he was so sick with bronchitis that he could barely train, let alone race.
With the Giro off the radar screen, Petacchi said he wants to arrive at the Tour de France in top sprinting condition.
“I have missed the Giro before, so it’s not the first time. After here, I will race in Germany and Belgium and the Tour de Suisse. That will bring me in to top condition for the Tour,” he said. “Last year’s Giro was so hard that I never recovered and I wasn’t at my best during the Tour. This year, I can arrive fresher at the Tour with hopes of winning a stage.”
Petacchi still believes he can be a factor in the bunch sprints despite being overshadowed by the likes of Mark Cavendish (Sky) and Matt Goss (GreenEdge).
Once a winner of 20-plus races a year, Petacchi’s haul has dramatically decreased. In 2010, he won his second green jersey at the Tour, but last year only won four races, including a stage at the Giro.
“I know I cannot win 20 races a season anymore like I used to,” he admitted. “But in the right situation and when I am in top condition, I know I can still win. I know I am capable of winning six, seven, eight races a year.”
Those “right conditions,” for the man called the “Gentleman sprinter,” include having a safe finish with a lead-out train delivering him to 150 meters to the line.
As he’s gotten older, Petacchi admits that when things get dicey in a bunch sprint, he’s more apt to ease off the gas than to risk crashing.
“I like to have my train. When I have two or three teammates pulling for me in the sprint and I have a clean shot to the line, coming off the front, I know I can still win,” he said. “When I have to come from behind, it’s more complicated. And when it’s dangerous, I hit the brakes. It’s not worth crashing.”
By skipping the Giro, Petacchi is hoping to have more support for the sprints at the Tour de France.
With Scarponi putting everything on winning the Giro, the team will likely give Petacchi at least two, perhaps three, riders for the sprints during the Tour.
It’s not quite the same now, as when he was accustomed having the entire Fassa Bortolo team riding for him a decade ago, but Petacchi admits he’s slowing down.
“Of course, I am not as fast as I used to be. And today the sprints are more complicated. And the organizers are making it harder for us sprinters to have chances to win,” he said. “Cavendish today is the rider of reference, like I was before. Now everyone looks to him to control the race.”
Petacchi’s contract is up at the end of this season and he wants to put a few wins on the board before talking to the team. The aging sprinter still also wants a few more trips to the podium before hanging up the cleats for good.
“I want to race another year or maybe a year and a half,” he said. “I know I can still win when I am top condition. It’s frustrating to not win as much as I used to, but I still love racing the bike.”
Watch VeloNews.com in the coming days for a longer interview with Petacchi.