How do you answer the critics?
You win. And win again. And take the maglia rosa in your first Grand Tour in two years. And then think about winning again.
That's how you do it.
And on the first working day of the week in Valdobbiadene, that's how LPR-Brakes' Alessandro Petacchi did it, confirming his comeback Monday in the third stage of Centenary Giro after 198 winding kilometres around the vineyards of Treviso. It was Petacchi's second successive stage victory and the rosa to boot.
Last kilometre escapees Giovanni Visconti (ISD) and local lad Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-NGC) weren't able to foil the sprinters' chances; maglia rosa Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad) had left the building; and Katusha's Filippo Pozzato, seemingly unawares, ended up handing his faster-finishing compatriot the perfect lead-out on a giant platter fit for Prime Minister Berlusconi, as Petacchi, for the second day running, emerged a decisive winner.
His victory salute was par for the course, but he issued a warning to the Italian journalists when he put his index finger over his mouth shortly after crossing the line.
"After I win, you always find fault in me; that someone else had a problem, that I wasn't the best. You always find excuses for my rivals," said a straight-faced Petacchi to the horde of mostly tabloid-leaning giornalisti Italiani at the press conference.
"I have a lot of respect for Cavendish, but I did a great sprint yesterday. And today I showed I was really strong again; [Tyler] Farrar was strong, too, but I was strongest."
Yes, props should go to Garmin-Slipstream's Farrar for second place ahead of Lampre's Francesco Gavazzi – his best result at this Giro, his first Grand Tour, where he now sits second overall on GC, eight seconds behind Petacchi and 10 seconds ahead of Columbia's Michael Rogers. After his breakthrough stage win in Tirreno-Adriatico two months ago, the young American appears to be getting the hang of things in Italia; surely a stage victory is just around the corner.
Did Petacchi hear about Cavendish being involved in a crash? What about the "ethics of the peloton", prodded one of the headline-hungry Italian journalists?
"I only knew after [the finish] there was a crash," responded Petacchi. "I didn't know before. I didn't see Cavendish and didn't see the Columbia riders."
No train? No problemi!
Ale-Jet, as his legion of fans call him, used to be a sprinter that could win only with a train, and only if the finish was not overly technical.
But his two main men, Lorenzo Bernucci and Alberto Ongarato, aren't here. Sunday, he was left to fend for himself with three kilometres to go. Today was the same; in a difficult, up-and-down finale, he fought with the best and came out on top.
"Yes, I feel really good," Petacchi told Cyclingnews, "but I'm also quite thin. I'm also not bad on the climbs [for a sprinter].
"There are also the Garmin and High Road trains, so if my teammates bring me to five kilometres to go, that's enough for me – I can use their trains and sprint on their wheel. Today, it was quite easy to take the wheel of other riders because there was a fair bit of climbing."
Does he feel good enough to keep the maglia rosa tomorrow, given the 1,466 metre-high summit finish to San Martino di Castrozza?
"No," Petacchi smiled, "but I think [Danilo] Di Luca can take it.
"We did a good team time trial [fourth best, 22 seconds behind Columbia-Highroad] so we have some advantage over the others. I see Armstrong and Leipheimer riding strong, so it would be good to have a minute's advantage going into the [Stage 12] Cinque Terre time trial," he said.
Into Prosecco country we go…
Monday's peloton in Grado was one less than when the Giro began 198-strong in Venice; Milram's Matthias Russ crashed on the descent of yesterday's only climb near the finish in Trieste and went home with a broken collarbone. Every year in cycling appears to be The Year of the Broken Clavicle.
A cycling lunar calendar, now there's an idea…
In a virtually unprecedented move in Grand Tour stage racing, Tuesday would host the first mountain-top finish to San Martino di Castrozza, but still, it didn't stop a quintet of hopefuls escaping after just 5km: Giuseppe Palumbo (Acqua e Sapone), Yuriy Krivstov (AG2R), Mauro Facci (Quick Step), Michael Ignatiev (Katusha) and Björn Schröder (Milram). Ignatiev, in case you didn't know, is becoming quite the escape artist in recent years, the indefatigable former points race world champion something of a Russian Jacky Durand.
The five enjoyed a handy though not overly helpful (if they were to stand any chance of victory) maximum advantage of around seven minutes as the course headed inland, direction Treviso, eventually ending 198km later in Valdobbiadene.
The winding, undulating roads around our 13-letter-long finishing town were an ideal platform for an escape to succeed. But with under five minutes' advantage 80km from the finish, it was touch-and-go whether the quintet would even get that far; perhaps they may have been better off trying some of the local Prosecco wines in the area – not that Cyclingnews condones riding while intoxicated.
Soon after the clock struck four in the afternoon, Garmin-Slipstream's Tour de France leader Christian Vande Velde went down and was carted to hospital, a serious blow for the fledging American squad, though for this tour at least, in Tom Danielson, they kept their leader.
The third category climb of Combai, which came after 156.7km and averaged 6.2%, did nothing for the break's chances, except reduce their already tenuous lead to no more than half a minute.
All together on the finishing circuit and with 20km left to race, nervous energy was spent on the narrow roads in an effort to stay up front, the pace largely being set by the crew from Liquigas. What ensued was a slew of attacks by the usual suspects including Thomas Voeckler (BBox Bouygues Telecom) and Jens Voigt (CSC), the stop-start nature causing havoc in the peloton and catching out maglia rosa Cavendish, who after a mass pile-up, never made it back.
And with Cav out the back door, no lucky door prizes for guessing who came first through the front.