Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) has twice proven that he is the sprinter to beat in this year's Giro d'Italia, and his rivals seem baffled about how they can beat him in the sprints on Italian soil after the transfer from Ireland.
Kittel won in Belfast and Dublin with late charges to the line. He started sprinting behind his rivals after struggling in the hectic finale but had the speed and power to blast past the likes of Ben Swift (Team Sky), Elia Viviani (Cannondale), Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Davide Appollonio (Ag2r- La Mondiale), and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr).
"Kittel is fortissimo, he's a beast," Petacchi admitted to Gazzetta dello Sport. "However it’s also true, with respect to the other sprinters, he has beaten riders who have never won a stage at the Giro d'Italia."
Petacchi won 27 stages at the Giro d'Italia during his long career. He is now 40 but will try his hand in the sprints when not looking after team leader Rigoberto Uran.
"I should have done the sprint in Dublin but the finish was just too nice…" he said with a hint of irony. "It never rains in Ireland and the roads are always dry, so it's right to put 10 corners in a finale like that…"
Petacchi is second overall, eight seconds behind race leader Michael Matthews. He could take the maglia rosa if he wins stage and takes the 10-second time bonus but knows it is not within his grasp.
"To do it, I've got to win. And how can I beat him?" he said of Kittel. "It's not only his success here, his four wins at the Tour last year didn’t happen by chance. He's flying and is hard to beat. If you let him launch the sprint, he'll beat you by three bike lengths. You've got to try to anticipate him like Swift did but then he comes past you because he's very strong."
"They way he won in Dublin was far more impressive than in Belfast. Even if the sprints are chaotic he has a go. He's got so much power in his legs that he's not scared to go for a long sprint, he's got a scary progression of speed."
Viviani ready to play a waiting game
Elia Viviani showed he was on form by twice beating Mark Cavendish at the Tour or Turkey but he has become the bridesmaid of the Giro d'Italia sprints, finishing fourth in Belfast and third in Dublin. He and the Cannondale team are desperate to win a stage but know they might have to wait until Kittel quits the Giro d'Italia.
"It shows that my form is good and that the team did a good job," Viviani said of his placings.
"In Dublin the guys rode really well. I was in a head to head sprint with Swift but we hadn’t realised that Kittel was about to pass us as twice the speed. Where did he come from? He seemed to have got lost but then he arrived like a missile."
Kittel is expected to quit the Giro d'Italia after the flat stage to Rivarolo Canavese to avoid the mountain stages and save himself for the Tour de France. Viviani will race on and could win stage 17 to Vittorio Veneto and then the final stage to Trieste.
"I hope to win a stage before June 1. I'll be trying but it won't be easy. I'll try and do my own sprint and not follow him. He can't win every time," he said.
Petacchi, Viviani and other Italian sprinters such as Francesco Chicchi (Neri-Sottoli), Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani-CSF) will be trying to beat Kittel at the end of Tuesday's flat stage from Giovinazzo to Bari. It is just 112km long and so every rider will be fresh for the final lap of the twisting 8.3km circuit in the centre of Bari.