Team Milram suffered a major blow Saturday, as it announced that star sprinter Alessandro Petacchi would not be able to ride the upcoming Giro d'Italia. His place will be taken by another star sprinter, Erik Zabel.
The Italian has been ill since Milano-Sanremo, and came down with bronchitis during the Tour of Turkey, where he won two stages. Last week the team said that he was suffering from severe tracheobronchitis with bronchial spasms. The 34 year-old has been on strong antibiotics and unable to train for 12 days. "I feel better now, but there is not enough time for a good training," he said. "So I agreed with out team manager Gerry van Gerwen that I would instead prepare myself for the Tour de France."
"Ale Jet" has a total of 24 stage wins in the Giro, including nine in 2004 alone. Last year he won five stages and the points jersey.
It will be only the second Giro appearance for Zabel in his 16-year career. He rode the Giro in 2005 in his last season with Team T-Mobile, finishing second behind Petacchi in two stages.
"Erik Zabel will start out of respect for the Giro d'Italia. He is a great athlete and immediately agreed," said team manager Gerry van Gerwen. "We are having a lot of medical problems at the moment. Luckily we have two top sprinters in our ranks, who can go after stage wins in the Grand Tours."
Milram also announced its provisional line-up for the Giro. In addition to Zabel, it is tentatively planning to send Alberto Ongarato, Marco Velo, Markus Eichler, Enrico Poitschke, Fabio Sabatini, Sergio Ghisalberti, Igor Astarloa and Matej Jurco.