An interview with Alessandro Petacchi, December 24, 2008
Alessandro Petacchi is looking for more and more wins in 2009, but at nearly 35 years of age he will have plenty of competition. Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews spoke with the Italian sprinter about emerging young talents, like Mark Cavendish, and the desire to put 2008's fiasco behind him once and for all.
This year started off well for the rider dubbed 'Ale-Jet', accumulating eight early-season wins. He began with the GP Costa degli Etruschi before taking three stages in the Ruta del Sol, one in the Volta a Valenciana and Tirreno-Adriatico, and two stages in the Tour of Turkey. It was the ideal preparation for the Giro d'Italia.
On the eve of this year's edition of the Giro, however, an investigation begun in 2007 caught up with the sprinter. The price? A start in the Giro, a race where he has claimed 19 career stage wins.
The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) investigated him in June 2007 for the high levels of Salbutamol, an asthma drug, found in his urine following stage 11 of the Giro d'Italia that year. Petacchi has a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) enabling him to take this medication, but the amount found was 1352ng/ml above the accepted limit of 1000ng/ml.
The Olympic committee called for a 12-month ban, but the country's disciplinary commission disagreed and shelved his case. Not accepting the decision, CONI appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). It agreed with the recommendation and, in May of this year, suspended Petacchi. It discounted the ban by two months for time already spent off the bike, but it barred him from competition between November 1 and August 31, 2008, which meant the stripping of several results he achieved before the decision was handed down. His team, Milram, terminated his contract soon after.
Cyclingnews: How is the winter break going for you?
Alessandro Petacchi: Good and calm. I am training a little bit with rides on my bike and time in the gym.
CN: Is life different at home with your new baby boy, Alessandro?
AP: It's going just fine at home and everything is okay with Alessandro Michele. He is moving around all the time. He leaves the animals we have alone; the dog plays with him, but the rest just watch him.
CN: How have you grown as a man since your suspension in May?
AP: It was a difficult year, but, with the arrival of our baby, the time passed relatively quickly. The first two months were the most difficult, but it allowed to me to reflect on life. Our baby was certainly a welcome distraction, so I could only think about him – because at the time he needed me more then I needed other things.
CN: Do you still take the same medicine, Salbutamol, for your asthma?
AP: Nothing has changed. I have this problem and I have the need to use Salbutamol. When I made a visit [to the doctor] this winter he re-issued the prescription and I continue to do the same thing. The UCI gave me permission to use it. I talked with the team today, explained that I did the exams [for the TUE] last year and I don't need to do it again because they are valid for years.
CN: What's your take on Mark Cavendish?
AP: He is a fast rider and demonstrated that he's very strong. Hopefully he can continue like this in the coming years.
CN: Did you see his sprint wins at the Giro and the Tour?
AP: Yes, they were great. For sure we will hear more of his name. He is an explosive sprinter; he has some of the characteristics as [Robbie] McEwen because he's not a rider who needs a lot of men or a train. His characteristics differ in that he's very fast over a short distance, however. I already went up against him before he did the Giro – at Tirreno-Adriatico; he is not a rider who I have never seen.
CN: We read that you shortened your vacation this year.
AP: With a small baby you aren't able to spend long periods away from home. We decided to stay near home; to take the baby on the plane doesn't seem necessary. We took a small trip [to Monte Carlo], but nothing special.
CN: Does this shorter break mean that you are also concentrating more on the next season?
AP: Maybe I took less time off during the break this year, but I was off the bike a lot this past summer and there isn't the need for a big rest.
CN: What are you doing for training these days?
AP: One day I will go out on the bike and one day I will go to the gym, but it is relaxed; there's no big rush. There's a lot of time ahead of me before the season starts – I've had all of December and there's all of January, which is plenty of time to prepare well.
CN: How much are you looking forward to a complete season and putting recent problems behind you?
AP: I put in some good races at the end of this year [three stages in the Tour of Britain, the Memorial Viviana Manservisi and the GP Beghelli - ed.] and so it was as if I raced for the whole year. In the end, it was a difficult and trying year, even if I raced less. It was still good to have a short rest, though.
CN: Your team's manager, Fabio Bordonali, has said he's looking to start the season with wins immediately. Are you ready?
AP: There are races at the start of the season that are suited to me, clearly. I will try. I normally start the season well and I think I will start in the same way again as long as there are no bumps along the way!
CN: What will be your early-season programme?
AP: I have not yet decided. I will start it off in Italy and then decide if I will head over to Spain or race the Tour Méditerranéen. I think I will start off with Donoratico. As for objectives... whatever comes; if I have a chance in a sprint I won't waste it. I will try to do whatever is possible when there's a chance to win.
CN: The Fassa Bortolo and Milram teams had a significant number of men devoted to your lead-out train, but what will Team LPR provide for you?
AP: The riders that have been with me and made this train adapted to the situation and learnt to how to do it [a lead out]. In almost any team you can find [riders with] the mentality and ability to do it. It's not like you can learn in two days, you need a little bit of time. I'll have men with the characteristics, [Claudio] Cucinotta, [Lorenzo] Bernucci, [Giairo] Ermeti around me. I'm not too sure but maybe there'll be additions to the roster.
CN: We heard the team was interested in Danilo Hondo.
AP: What was said regarding Hondo is not true. No one ever talked about this. If there was the possibility to do so we would definitely take on [Alberto] Ongarato, but not Hondo. It is not that he is not a good rider – he would be a good addition – but Ongarato has been my teammate for years [five] and if there is the possibility, with the expertise that he has, I think it would be more important to have a rider like him, not Hondo.
CN: Did Marco Velo try to make the jump with you to LPR?
AP: Yes, but there were problems at that time and he had to wait while Bordonali finalised the sponsors. He went on to sign for Quick Step.
CN: You will be forced to share the team with Di Luca at the Giro d'Italia?
AP: This is true, but there are nine riders and there will be possibilities [for a win]. There won't be problems; I've already had teammates who have contended for the general classification and I know that it won't be a problem fielding riders with two different roles.
CN: What is left for you to conquer before you finish you cycling career?
AP: I would like to win Milano-Sanremo again because it's a race I like. Whatever I can win I will try to take; there's never a limit.
CN: Have you thought about the 2010 World Championship in Melbourne?
AP: This would be an important objective, if it's suited to me. I've heard a little bit about it, but it's too early and I have to see.