Points classification leader Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) was impressed by the performance of Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) at the finish of the fourth stage in Reims on Wednesday, as the Italian celebrated his second Tour de France stage victory having already won in Brussels on Sunday.
"Petacchi is really strong," Hushovd told Cyclingnews. "He is absolutely the best sprinter in this race at the moment."
The Norwegian himself finished ninth in the bunch sprint at Reims, and admitted the last two stages had been tiresome. "I was a bit too far back in the last curve behind Lancaster and Hunter," the Norwegian said. "Petacchi and others passed me on the left and I couldn't really get my sprint going. I lacked a bit of power.
"I just felt tired today. I think the first few days got to me. It's too bad, but I have to accept it."
Still, Hushovd added 17 points to his tally in the points classification and now has a total of 80 points on his account. Double stage winner Petacchi, however, now sits second behind the Cervélo TestTeam leader with 70 points and could well come around him not only in the fast finishes, but also on the classification.
Asked if he feared the Italian in his quest to take the green jersey to Paris, Hushovd said, "Yes, I think he is a big rival now for the jersey. But it's early in the race. Anything can still happen. I have to take it day-by-day."
Hushovd also commented on Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), who finished a surprising 12th after winning six stages at the Tour in 2009. "He's not like he was last year before the Tour. But I think he'll come back stronger, later in the race."