Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) made his return to the Tour de France complete by taking the green jersey in Thursday’s 11th stage.
Petacchi finished second to Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), but far enough ahead of Thor Hushovd (Cervélo) to take the points jersey. Petacchi now leads Hushovd 161-157 and vows to fight all the way to Paris.
“Cavendish was fastest today, but I am satisfied to take the green jersey,” Petacchi said after the stage. “It was a very long sprint and the team rode perfectly for me today. I will now try to keep the green jersey, though I admit it will not be easy.”
Petacchi is making headlines for all the right reasons in what’s his first Tour since 2004. He won two stages in the first week and he survived the Alps to contest for the sprint Thursday in a hot and windy stage to Bourg-lès-Valence.
Petacchi now hopes to get over the Pyrénées and finish the Tour for what would be just the second time in his career.
“I made it through the Alps feeling pretty good,” he told VeloNews before start of the stage. “I think I can make it through the Pyrénées. I am feeling good and I have (Danilo) Hondo with me in the sprints. I think the fight will come down to Paris.”
Hushovd stalled on the final sprint to the line and gave up the green jersey when he crossed the line seventh.
“I am angry with myself,” Hushovd said at the line. “I was too cautious in the sprint. I let people come past me and I lost too many points.”
The green-jersey battle seems to be a two-man race, with Petacchi and Hushovd opening up a substantial gap on third place Robbie McEwen (Katusha), with 138 points.
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) climbed into fourth place with 132 points, but remained vague on his green-jersey plans. Cavendish overcame a poor start to the Tour to win three stages, putting him right back into contention.
“We’ll just have to see how it goes,” Cavendish said. “There are probably two, maybe three sprints left in this Tour. I will try to get some more wins and see where we are in the points.”
A big question is whether Petacchi can make it to Paris. He’s sprinted only once down the Champs-Elysées, taking fifth in 2001. The grueling climbs otherwise foiled his attempts to finish the Tour.
The allure of Paris might keep Petacchi in the hunt all the way to the end. A shot at the green jersey would double the incentive.
“There will be sprints in Bordeaux and Paris, so I want to make it through the Pyrénées,” Petacchi said. “This Tour is very difficult. There will be a lot of sprinters who cannot arrive to Paris. The best way to gain points is to win a stage. I will try in the intermediate sprints if the pack arrives to them. I won’t go looking to get into breakaways. We have to wait to see how things develop.”