By Jean-François Quénet in Cagliari
Alessandro Petacchi has won ten races already this year but there were still many lingering questions over his ability to win at the highest level after the Italian failed to claim either Milan-San Remo or Gent-Wevelgem this season. "Had I not won at the Giro, nothing else done before would have counted," said Petacchi of his season to date.
One year ago, on stage three, he was out of the race already with a broken knee. "I went through a lot of doubts afterwards," he commented, remembering his recovery period when he couldn't even match a 90 year-old woman in a pedaling exercise. "I've received huge support from Michele [former classics champion Bartoli]. He also had a serious accident in his career [at the Tour of Germany in 1999 - ed] and he knew what was happening to me. I've asked him for so much advice. You realise who your real friends are when you need them in a difficult time."
Petacchi also mentioned someone that he considers like a "second father" who has also helped him a lot and deserves the dedication for this Giro stage win. However, he maintained that this person wants to remain anonymous, although many of the assembled media suspected it to be Dr Luigi Cecchini who is now under investigation for the Italian arm of Operación Puerto. The Tuscan coach was quoted in Milan daily newspaper Il Giornale as having only five riders under his wings now: Damiano Cunego, Petacchi and three others that he wouldn't name.
Talking about his win, Petacchi said: "I'm a sprinter of instinct. Sometimes it has made me lose races but today it made me win. With 350 metres to go, I've taken the risk to go too early but it worked out. It's been one of the longest sprints of my career. In such a finish, the legs count more than the team."
In fact, there were no Milram riders forming a train like the day before, when he lost to Robbie McEwen and Paolo Bettini. "It's not the first time that I've won without a train," he said. "But the team has believed in me till the end. It's been our guys to go and catch the two breakaway riders [Mikhail Ignatiev and Giovanni Visconti]. The last 25 kilometres were very nervous. I stayed on the wheels very easily. I know my rivals were spending energy because of the side wind, I didn't."
There have been doubts about Petacchi's train too, despite the Milram leader saying yesterday: "The train has worked but not me." Marco Velo was unable to ride the Giro this year because of his crash at Gent-Wevelgem and the other important part of the train, Fabio Sacchi, was left at home by Milram, officially for health reasons although Sacchi has said he's fine and not sick.
"We know that we have other good riders for the job", Petacchi said, referring to Brett Lancaster and Mirko Lorenzetto, the replacements at the end of the train with Alberto Ongarato in between.
"This is one of the most beautiful wins of my career. To win at the Giro is something different from winning anywhere else. You probably have seen my emotions today, there were cries of joy."
Judging by previous years, Petacchi could well experience more of those moments before reaching Milan.