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Giro d'Italia

Petacchi Q&A: The Giro sprinter who wasn’t there

Ale-Jet dealing with self-confidence issues, searching for form in a build-up to the Tour de France

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SESTRI LEVANTE, Italy (VN) – Friday’s 13th stage could be the last chance for the Giro d’Italia’s fast men before they jump on the “sprinters’ express” and head for home.

Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw and Matt Goss have been fighting for top bragging rights in the first half of the Giro, but there’s one name missing in the mass sprints this year: Alessandro Petacchi.

Instead of racing the Giro, where he has won 22 stages and one points jersey, Petacchi is racing at the Tour of Norway. His Lampre-ISD team decided to build its Giro squad around Michele Scarponi, sidelining the 38-year-old during a month when he used to be the king of the Giro sprints.

Petacchi, winless so far through the 2012 season, still believes he can win in the mass gallops. The Italian admits he’s not as fast as he used to be, but defiantly believes he can still win in the bunch sprints.

In an exclusive interview with VeloNews, Petacchi speaks about Cavendish, the frustrations of slowing down and why he believes he still has a few good sprints in his legs:

VN: No wins so far this season, how are things going in 2012?
AP: The start of the season wasn’t so good for me because I had some little problems with my health. After Milan-San Remo, I didn’t race at all until the Tour of Turkey. Now I am feeling better. My next big goals are Tour de Suisse and the Tour. It’s a program that I like. And I hope to be at my best for Suisse and the Tour.

VN: What kind of health problems did you have?
AP: I was just feeling bad. I had bronchitis. If you cannot breath, it’s hard to race.

VN: For many, it was a surprise to see your name left off the Giro roster, how did you react to the news?
AP: No, there’s no Giro for me this year. It’s better that the team rides for Scarponi. It’s important for the team to earn some points, for the classification for the WorldTour. Of course, I would like to do the Giro, but there have been times when I did not race the Giro. Last year, I did a good Giro, but later I was very tired for the Tour. It’s hard to keep the condition for a long time. So it wasn’t worth it to go to the Giro and only race 10 days, and then go home without racing until the Tour. I knew that was going to be very difficult. I prefer to do it like this and go to the Tour in the best possible form.

VN: The idea for the Tour would be to win a stage? And the green points jersey?
AP: I really don’t know. The ideal would be to go to win a stage, more than one, even better. The green jersey is very difficult. First of all, it’s a lot of stress. To ride for the classification every day, you have to challenge for every sprint. First I want to win a stage, then later we’ll see.

VN: Last year the Giro was very hard. Did it make the Tour even harder for you?
AP: Last year, I raced the Giro, I won a stage and then I went home. I spent too much time away from the races and then I got a little sick. I went to the Tour and I just didn’t feel very good. It’s better for me to race a lot before the Tour. That’s why we selected this program. Last year was a very hard Giro. It was very different from the other years. Normally, there are five, six, seven stages the sprinters can win. Last year, the first 10 days only had one or two chances for the sprinters. Every day was very difficult.

VN: It seems that there are fewer chances for the sprinters in the grand tours…
AP: It seems that they are making the races harder and harder. I do not know why. Look at San Remo. It was like that for many years, then they decided to add the Maniè climb. It’s a climb that doesn’t change a thing, but it makes the race very different. You have to position yourself at the front, there’s a lot of extra stress. For the riders, it’s more and more difficult to try to win the sprints. You have to be in absolute super condition.

VN: With everything bet on the Giro for the GC, will we see the Petacchi train back for the Tour?
AP: I will have Hondo and a few others. We will bring a team to hunt for the stages. For the GC, I do not know. It depends if Cunego wants to do well for the Tour. If I have a strong team, I can still win races, but it’s not as easy as before. There are less chances for the sprinters. There are more teams fighting for the sprints. I know I can still make a good sprint. When I have a train, I can be at the front and make my sprint. It’s always difficult to win. But when I have my train, I can make my sprint to try to win.

VN: What does your future hold?
AP: This year my contract is up. I do not know what’s going to happen. I would like to race another year or perhaps a year-and-a-half more. I have to speak with the team. We’ll see if we can reach some sort of accord.

VN: Are you still motivated to race as you were before?
AP: Yes. I have a different kind of mentality than the younger riders. I need a big team who can work for me in the finale. I believe when I am in good condition I can still be a good sprinter. Now, the sprints are much more dangerous. There’s a lot of stress, too many riders taking risks. I do not want to crash. When I am there at the front with my teammates, I feel stronger and I can make my sprint with my mentality.

VN: How have the sprints changed from a decade ago?
AP: Yes, it’s changed a lot in the last three or four years. Now there are more teams trying to make a train for the sprints. I do not want to try to make the sprints alone. When you saw a rider like [Robbie] McEwen, he could make the sprints without much help. Not me. I like to have my train. When I can make this train, I have a better chance to win.

VN: Do you still believe you can win big races?
AP: I want to win. It’s always been expected of me to win. I want to return to win again. I know it’s going to be very difficult to win 20 races like I did before. I still believe I can win five, six, eight races a year. For me, that would be important.

VN: And the best sprinter today?
AP: Of course, Cavendish is the fastest right now. He wins a lot. [Tyler] Farrar is very strong, too. There are a lot of good sprinters. There are others, [Peter] Sagan, [Edvald] Boasson Hagen. There are many who are strong right now. And they all are trying to make a train. So it’s very difficult to win.

VN: Is it difficult to adjust when before you were the wheel everyone was trying to get on?
AP: For many years, I was always the one who was at the front. I was the strongest in the sprints. So the others were trying to get on my wheel. That makes the sprints very different. When the others have to come around you, it’s much easier to win. Now, when I am trying to come from behind, it’s not what I am accustomed to. It’s much more difficult for me to win. My instinct is different. I admit I have a lot of fear in the sprints. When I am at the front, it’s a cleaner shot to the line. When you are behind, it’s much more dangerous.

VN: Winning doesn’t come as easy now that you are 38?
AP: I am not as fast as I was before. That makes it even more difficult for me, because I do not know how I am going right now. I used to win a lot. Now I am hardly winning at all. It’s not easy. When I was leading the team, we were building something beautiful with my teammates. Now I can see that I do not have the team at my disposal. I am missing two, three, four more teammates for me in the sprints. Now everything has changed for me, even my mentality. The most important is to go to the Tour in the best condition.

VN: Is it frustrating not winning as much as before?
AP: It’s very frustrating sometimes. I also think that it’s because my head is not so good right now. I do not have the same self-confidence as before. I am trying to rebuild my strength and confidence. I know that one big win would go a long way toward restoring all that. A big win can change everything.