Alessandro Petacchi made his long-awaited return to WorldTour racing during the 175.3 kilometre opening stage of the Eneco Tour from Koksijde to Ardooie in Belgium on Monday. The opening sprint presented the chance for any one of the headline sprinters to claim the overall leader's jersey and for Petacchi it was a welcome return to two-wheeled action.
The 39-year-old Italian has been racing professionally since 1996 and has an astounding 48 grand tour stage wins to his name. Nonetheless, having not raced since Paris-Roubaix with his former team Lampre-Merida, Petacchi equated his nervous return to that of his first day at school.
"I was a little bit excited about this race, to be honest," explained the 2005 Milan-San Remo champion. "For me it was like the first day of school and I think the first day went well. I have to say the feeling was really good."
"Today my role was to stay with Gert Steegmans and try to do a good job for him for the sprint," said Petacchi. "But in the end we got lost in the final. I was in front and tried to stay there and do the sprint. Then when the real sprint started I was a little bit closed off."
Mark Renshaw (Belkin), a fellow lead-out man, escaped the clutches of the thundering peloton for a surprise win, and Petacchi capped his return with a top ten performance. For the Italian veteran, however, it's the bigger picture that he is pleased with.
"I finished 9th but it's not important today how I finished. It was the first race and I had a good feeling over the long distance, like a normal stage," explained Petacchi. "I am happy and hope to continue like that. Even the team was extraordinary. It is really nice to be on a team like this. In the final everyone gave me a little help with tips and advice during the race. I felt immediately a part of this team."
The Eneco Tour continues today with the 176.9 kilometre stage from Ardooie to Vorst in Belgium and will present another chance for the sprinters to do battle.