Gert Steegmans, one of the best bunch sprint lead-out men in the world, wanted to beat top sprinter Alessandro Petacchi at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, which started on Wednesday. Quick-Step racer Steegmans, who last year won two stages and also almost won the overall classification at the event, again leads the overall classification after stage 1.
"I want to beat Alessandro Petacchi in the sprint," the Belgian boldly announced to Sportwereld one day prior to the race. "That would be beautiful. And why should it not happen? I saw how easily Boonen beat him in Qatar, and I've been faster than Boonen before, so..."
Indeed, Steegmans won the first bunch sprint in the South of Portugal Wednesday, but only after race commissaires decided to relegate Petacchi to fourth place for irregular sprinting.
After winning Wednesday, Steegmans said, "It's a strange way to win a race, but I am really happy. I lost a few places due to a fall at the final corner. That said, I was still able to make them up and get hot on Petacchi's heels. At that point he moved slightly, and I had to stop pedalling. After the race, when we were already on the bus, the organisers of the race called me to take part in the prize-giving ceremony as winner of the race! I'd like to specify that it was the jury's decision, I didn't lodge a complaint."
Petacchi was disappointed with the relegation. "I won, but the jury decided that my sprint wasn't correct," he said. "Yes, it's true, I moved from the right to left site of the street. But I didn't obstruct anybody and I didn't want anybody to have a crash. I have won about 120 races and I was never unfair."
In any case, Steegmans is ready to continue the enormous progress he started in 2006, and happy to have changed teams. "Because I ride with Quick-Step now, my chances of winning races automatically increased," said the former Davitamon-Lotto man, who used to lead out many victorious sprints for Robbie McEwen. "If I had stayed with Lotto, I would have been in a team full of underdogs again. Now, I'm with the team to beat. At Lotto, they count on the mistakes of others, while at Quick-Step the basis is proper strength."
To read the complete race report, click here.