It was a homecoming of sorts for Alessandro Petacchi with victory in Sunday’s first stage at the 2010 Tour de France.
The veteran Italian hasn’t raced the Tour since 2004 and only returned to a top caliber ProTour team this year with Lampre, following his controversial two-year ban in 2007 for taking the asthma medication salbutamol.
Petacchi avoided three late-stage crashes to sneak through for his first Tour win since he won four stages in 2003.
“To win a stage in the Tour is always good. The last time I won was in 2003. I crashed in 2004 and had to abandon, then I had a bad injury in the Giro,” Petacchi said. “Winning the same now is the same thrill as winning before, though today was very difficult. It was very nervous and it was such a long time since I have raced a Tour. But once I got to the start, I remembered how everything is and I got over the nerves very fast.”
Petacchi was once the dominant sprinter in the pack, even winning stages in all three grand tours in the same year in 2003.
A string of injuries, his ban and struggles with form have since seen younger riders such as Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar eclipse him.
Petacchi abandoned the Giro in the first week with an illness, but came back to win a stage at the Tour de Suisse in June. That victory came in similar conditions, when the favorite Cavendish took out Heinrich Haussler and Tom Boonen in a harrowing finish sprint, leaving Petacchi to sneak through and claim the victory.
Petacchi, known for his grumpy humor, didn’t like suggestions that his win Sunday was somewhat less than deserving.
“I am here to sprint and win, so it is not a surprise that I won. I had good legs and my team delivered me well to the line. Crashing is part of sprinting and I avoided the crashes,” he said. “Even if Cavendish had not crashed, who is to say I would not have won? I think I made a good sprint and would have won anyway.”
Petacchi’s first-place points put him in the green jersey going into stage 2.
He’ll have more chances this week to prove that his comeback victory was as well-deserved as he believes it was.