Another bunch sprint, another Mark Cavendish victory and another day of frustration for Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) on stage 15 of the Tour de France. While Montpellier’s Avenue des Vanières offered the fast men a perfect stage to showcase their talents, fluffed lines just inside the red kite meant that the Italian had too much ground to make up on Cavendish in the sprint.
Petacchi was cleverly placed on Cavendish’s wheel with two kilometres to go but lost his position amid the hubbub of the fast run-in to the line. Although he picked his way through the carnage and appeared to be the quickest over the final 200 meters, Petacchi had to settle for third place behind Cavendish and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo).
"In the final kilometre I lost a few positions and I had to get back up there," Petacchi said glumly on the steps of his team bus after the stage. "I had the legs but I had to take a lot of wind. I tried."
In spite of his disappointment, Petacchi is still holding out hope that he can prevent Cavendish from securing a hat-trick of Champs-Elysées victories next Sunday.
"I’m certainly I’m doing better sprints than I was doing at the beginning of the Tour," he pointed out. "There’s still Paris…"
Petacchi arrived at the Tour protesting that he was lacking in racing miles, and apart from a third-place finish at Châteauroux, he made little impression in the opening week of racing. The composition of his team has been another factor in his modest showing to date, as Damiano Cunego’s overall challenge means that Lampre have designated just two riders to help Petacchi in the sprints.
"The team is a little divided given that Damiano is up there in the general classification," Petacchi explained.
Hondo infiltrates the HTC-Highroad train
Danilo Hondo discussed the impact of having a sprinter and an overall contender on the same team when he reached the team bus after the finish. Normally Petacchi’s lead-out man, the experienced German has taken on a new role at this Tour de France to counteract Lampre’s reduced sprint train.
"The problem is that this year the team is very small to prepare the sprint for Alessandro," Hondo told Cyclingnews. "There’s only me and Grega Bole, so you cannot go on the side like last year, like a train. You have to do it a little bit differently."
Rather than being led-out by a teammate in the sprint, Petacchi attempts to sit on Cavendish’s wheel, while Hondo contributes to the pace-setting of the HTC train in order to ensure that only the thoroughbred sprinters are left in the final 500 metres.
"When Alessandro stays on the wheel of Cavendish, the only thing I can do is to make a very hard speed on the front to help the HTC train to become faster and faster before the finish," Hondo said. "That is more and more a sprint that Alessandro likes. But it’s the Tour and everybody wants to be up there, and it’s difficult to do your plan exactly."
After what Hondo described as Philippe Gilbert’s "show attack" with 3km to go, the German set a blistering pace at the front of the peloton in the finale in Montpellier. But while Hondo "performed miracles," according to Petacchi, the man himself conspired to lose Cavendish’s wheel at the most inopportune moment.
"When I started with more than two kilometres to go, I saw Alessando on the wheel of Cavendish and so that’s what we spoke about," Hondo said. "I went on the front and made a very, very fast speed to make it hard behind to get up into a better position.
"When I pulled over there were 800-700 metres to the finish, and I saw him a little bit more behind. I don’t know what happened with the position, and then he had to work to come back, so I’ll have to ask him."
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