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Petacchi leads crop of Italians without 2015 contracts

The country's economic crisis has resulted in several riders looking for work next season

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MILAN (VN) — Italy’s economic crisis extends to cycling, where Alessandro Petacchi and several other professional riders behind him remain unemployed for the 2015 season.

“If I don’t find an employment contract, I’ll quit,” the 40-year-old Petacchi told Italy’s Tutto Bici website. “I’ll dedicate myself to my family. It’s been weighing on me already to be traveling all the time.”

Petacchi won the Tour de France’s green jersey in 2010 and helped lead out Mark Cavendish the past year and a half on Belgium’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step team. The team did not renew his contract for 2015.

“Ale-Jet” has options on his plate. He has been negotiating with Italian second-division team Neri Sottoli and reportedly with French second-division team Cofidis. Nacer Bouhanni, who won three stages and the points classification at this year’s Giro d’Italia, signed a deal with Cofidis for 2015 and is targeting the Giro and the Tour. Petacchi could help Bouhanni on Cofidis or young sprinter Jakub Mareczko on Neri Sottoli.

“I’d still like to race because that doesn’t weigh on me. I like it a lot, but I want to make myself available to developing young riders and being closer to my wife and my six-year-old son Alessandro,” added Petacchi. “I hope to find a team that works well for me.”

Many Italian professionals like Petacchi are being forced to tighten their belts by stepping down into the lower ranks. Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Valerio Agnoli (Astana), Paolo Longo Borghini (Cannondale), Andrea Palini (Lampre-Merida), and Luca Dodi (Lampre-Merida) will likely sign with second- or third-division teams to continue racing.

Gasparotto, winner of the 2012 Amstel Gold Race, may sign with Belgian second-division team Wanty-Groupe Gobert. Agnoli helped Fabio Aru to third in the 2014 Giro d’Italia and Vincenzo Nibali to the overall win in 2013, but he appears to be stepping down to Neri Sottoli.

“Gasparotto rode well in the Ardennes Classics, he was the first Italian finisher at times, he won the Amstel Gold Race, but we want to focus on the grand tours,” Astana’s team manager Giuseppe Martinelli told Italy’s Ciclo Web. “Unfortunately, we had to sacrifice some riders.

“Agnoli remained friends with Vincenzo, but with the sports directors, the balance was lost. Maybe he gave less than what we had expected, or maybe we just expected too much from him.”

Longo Borghini, Palini, and Dodi have offers, but little has come of them. The 34-year-old Longo Borghini will help his wife teach Pilates at one of their two centers if he does not find a new contract.

“I’ll get another job or start studying again,” Dodi, 27, told Tutto Bici. Like Damiano Cunego, he may study sports science. “Even if I have the chance to race, I’ll continue with my plan of returning to school.”

Besides the UCI WorldTour riders, several in the second division have yet to confirm their 2015 plans. Francesco Chicchi won the under-23 world championship in 2002 and then raced for Fassa Bortolo, Quick Step, and, this year, Neri Sottoli, but without big results he lacks a contract.

Davide Viganò was one of the first Italians to sign with Sky in its 2010 debut year. In 2014, with Spanish second-division team Caja Rural-Seguros, the 30-year-old won a stage of the Tour of Portugal. He is looking for a bigger team or considering the possibility of working with his wife.