At 38 years of age, Alessandro Petacchi is one of the oldest sprinters in the peloton but while most fast men lose their edge over the years, the Italian is still sharp, looking to take home the green points classification at the Tour de France in 2012. He isn't even thinking about retirement.
Petacchi is stepping up his game for 2012 to attempt to beat the reigning world champion, Mark Cavendish, and rather than remain in Europe, he has chosen to begin his season at the Santos Tour Down Under with his Lampre-ISD team.
"I'm still able to ride, perhaps because I lost a year in 2006, and so I still have a year of energy to spend," Petacchi said in an interview with Quotidiano.net. "I don't think that the season that's about to start is my last season, I'd like to do another year."
Petacchi's peak came in 2003, when he claimed 15 Grand Tour stages, four in the Giro d'Italia, six in the Tour de France and five in the Vuelta a España. He earned a massive nine stage wins in the Giro the following year, taking out the points classification, and ended the year with four Vuelta stages.
A steady string of Grand Tour stages followed in 2005, along with his win in Milan-San Remo, his only Monument to date. His chances to add to his Grand Tour tally ended in 2006 when he broke his kneecap in a crash at the Giro d'Italia, and his five Giro stages of 2007 were disqualified after he tested positive for excessive asthma medicine following stage 11.
Despite the setbacks, he is still the number four ranked Italian in terms of overall victories, behind Francesco Moser, Giuseppe Saronni and Mario Cipollini.
Petacchi still disputes his exact number of career wins, calling the tally at 180 after his Giro d'Italia stage win last year. While 13 wins have been erased due to his doping offense, he is still within sight of Cipollini's 191.
"It will be hard to pass the first two, and besides, it doesn't seem right to surpass my team manager," Petacchi said.
"If I succeeded in beating Cipollini, it would be a big personal satisfaction. In the end, it's the type of wins you have that count. Mario is a great champion, for me it was already important to beat him during my career. Having him as a rival helped me a lot, beating a foreigner wouldn't have been the same thing. It made me more famous, and changed my career because he was world champion."
His main competition now comes from Mark Cavendish, who Petacchi says has already shown himself to be a great champion. "He still has eight to 10 years ahead at high levels, he won a Worlds that was perfect for him.
"For me, he is a rival. It's always nice to see new faces even if he's been winning a lot for two to three years. After Cipollini, for me he represents another challenge, and at 38 years of age, it's not easy."
His main goal is to arrive at Milan-San Remo in top form and to try and take his second victory there before focusing the remainder of the summer on the Tour de France.
"This year I'll do the Tour – I'll probably skip the Giro, and I hope that I go better than last year."