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Petacchi signs with Pro Continental team Southeast for 2015

Southeast hopes the Italian's presence on the squad will help it gain a Giro d'Italia wildcard invite

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MILAN (VN) — Italian Alessandro Petacchi will keep racing into his 20th professional season at 41 years old. On Tuesday, the sprinter signed a one-year contract for Italian second-division team Southeast for 2015.

“He’s a big champion,” general manager Angelo Citracca told VeloNews. “He can give our sponsor Southeast big visibility even if he is towards the end of his career.”

Petacchi, who celebrated his birthday on January 3, has won stages in all three grand tours, earned the green jersey at the 2010 Tour de France, and also won the 2005 edition of Milano-Sanremo. He worked in Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s train to lead out sprinter Mark Cavendish the last two seasons.

Petacchi last won at Belgium’s Grand Prix Cerami on April 12, 2014.

Southeast, headquartered in Hangzhou, China, manufactures prefabricated metal panels for construction. It took over sponsorship from Neri Sottoli, which remains on the jersey that changed from neon yellow to grey for 2015.

The UCI Pro Continental team raced as Neri Sottoli, Yellow Fluo, and Vini Fantini, and participated in the last four editions of the Giro d’Italia. Doping scandals, however, have rocked the team. In 2013, Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio tested positive for EPO during the Giro and in 2014, Matteo Rabottini failed an out-of-competition EPO test.

Petacchi had his own troubles at the 2007 Giro d’Italia, where he failed an anti-doping test for asthma inhaler drug Salbutamol. He said he accidentally took too many puffs, but still served a nine-month ban and lost his five stage wins from the race.

He maintains 22 stage wins from the Giro d’Italia and counts six in the Tour de France and 20 in the Vuelta a España. He also owns stage victories in Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, and one-day races Scheldeprijs and Paris-Tours.

Citracca said he hopes Petacchi’s signature will help his team receive a wildcard invitation to race the 2015 Giro, scheduled for May 9-31. Organizer RCS Sport will likely announce the four to five wildcard teams to race with the 17 ProTeams in January.

“He could help us enter the Giro d’Italia, he’s a plus,” Citracca said. “He’s won 22 times there, so it’s huge bonus for us.”

Petacchi’s resume makes him one of cycling’s top sprinters, alongside with Cavendish, Mario Cipollini, and Freddy Maertens.

Before signing for Omega Pharma, Petacchi raced for Lampre, LPR Brakes, Milram, Fassa Bortolo, and Scrigno. He briefly retired in 2013 to spend more time with his family, but an offer from Omega Pharma lured him back into the peloton.

Petacchi will aim to win Milano-Sanremo for a second time, especially now that it will finish on Via Roma again, and help the team in the Giro d’Italia. Southeast’s young first-year professional Jakub Mareczko could learn from Petacchi’s experience.

The 2015 season will likely be Petacchi’s last in the peloton. His contract runs through September, but he will decide in June if he will continue to race or start studying to become a sports director for Southeast.