By Jean-François Quénet in Albufeira, Portugal
Last year there were a few direct oppositions between Alessandro Petacchi and Tom Boonen prior to their first common goal, which is always Milan-San Remo. After losing every single sprint against his Belgian rival in Qatar, the Italian has chosen a different road on his lead up to La Classicissima and it's in Portugal for the Tour of Algarve, starting today.
"It's been a team choice to make me race here," he said, after getting a warm welcome by race organisers in South Portugal. "It's the same for me. In any race I go, I try to win at least a bunch sprint."
There might be more than one during the five days race that hasn't featured many difficulties this year. Petacchi will face the opposition of T-Mobile's new signing Bernhard Eisel who was used to win stages here with Française des Jeux in the past few years.
"I'm going to concentrate on organising my train," he explained. "The sprint I won in Donoratico was a bit of a mess. One of my new lead out men Brett Lancaster got boxed in and we haven't done the sprint we had to do."
Lancaster isn't present in Portugal but Petacchi's old train is. It includes the famous trio formed of Marco Velo, Alberto Ongarato and Fabio Sacchi. "They have the experience of more than 100 winning sprints," Petacchi recalled. "We have also added some new ones."
Lancaster is the equivalent of the reinforcement of Boonen's train with Gert Steegmans at Quick Step. "We have seen at last year's Tour de France that Steegmans is a great rider but I'm not worried," Petacchi added. "I'm confident in my train as well. It might take 10 to 15 sprints before we do it perfectly but it's just a matter of putting everything right together. I'm a different sprinter than Boonen anyway, I've always done my sprints with accelerations while Boonen is more explosive. In Qatar, I was missing the explosivity. I hope to regain the little explosivity I've got."
With one win this year, he's far from the most successful Italian sprinter Alberto Loddo who has won one stage in the Vuelta Tachira and five in Le Tour de Langkawi. "I don't want to underestimate what Loddo has done but I'm old enough to put some criticisms. I saw him at a criterium in Sardegna in 2000 and he was flying as an amateur, then he won straight away in Qatar when he turned pro but he jeopardized his career coming to the races with five extra kilos. Now with Gianni Savio at Selle Italia, he might have lived the life of a bike rider."
"It's hard to win anywhere in the world but he yet has to confirm his wins in Europe and it will increase the value of his wins outside Europe," added Petacchi. "I know Malaysia, that's where I got my first pro win. I have a great memory of this country."