Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) was the winner of the opening stage of the Tour de France twelve months ago but believes that the uphill finish, and his lack of racing miles in recent weeks, will rule him out of the equation at Mont des Alouettes.
The veteran Italian sprinter was able to tap into a startlingly rich vein of climbing form during the Giro d'Italia in May and came close to winning the sharp uphill finish at Fiuggi in the opening week, ultimately giving best to Francisco Ventoso (Movistar). He won two stages at the 2010 Tour de France and the green points jersey but on the eve of this year's Tour, Petacchi played down his chances of a repeat performance in the Vendée.
"I don't know the finish very well but it's quite difficult and I'd reckon it's better suited to a rider with Gilbert’s characteristics, so we have to see," Petacchi told Cyclingnews.
"If I have the legs I had in Fiuggi then maybe it would be doable, but I think I'll need a couple of stages to get into my rhythm. I had some problems that kept me off the bike and I lost a few days of training, so I need to get a little racing in first."
Petacchi joined the mass exodus of sprinters from the Giro after the final flat stage to Ravenna at the end of week two and his only competitive outing since was the Tour of Slovenia, where he could only manage third behind Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) in the race's sole sprint finish.
While many of the sprinters on the Passage du Gois on Saturday morning were disappointed by the difficult nature of the Tour's opening weekend, Petacchi admitted that he would be glad to get a couple of stages under his belt before tackling the race's first pure bunch finish, expected on day three on Monday.
"From my point of view, doing the hard first stage and the team time trial before the first real bunch finish might help me get back my race sharpness," he mused. "Having to do well straight away in the first stage, the way that I am now, would be more difficult."
Petacchi's Giro d'Italia preparation included lengthy spells of training on Mount Etna in the company of Michele Scarponi, and he returned to Sicily as part of his build-up to the Tour. Although he acknowledged that his top-end speed dropped as his resistance on the climbs improved, he pointed out that Lampre-ISD's goals at the Giro and Tour are very different.
"Maybe I was a bit stronger on the climbs in the Giro and maybe in the sprints I had lost a little bit but the Giro was a bit of a parenthesis," Petacchi explained. "The team had a very precise aim and that was to do a good team time trial and then do a good Giro with Scarponi, and in the end we succeeded in getting second.”
"At this Tour I don't think Damiano [Cunego] wants to go for the general classification so we have a different outlook, we'll be on the hunt for stage wins."
Taking on Cavendish
In spite of his apparent drop in speed, Petacchi still managed to win the Giro's opening road stage by cannily anticipating Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) in the sprint in Parma. The Italian is one of the few fast men in this Tour to have beaten the Manxman in head-to-head grand Tour sprints, but he pointed out that guile alone is not sufficient in a high-speed finale.
"Well, to anticipate someone in the sprint you need to have the legs," he said. "You can't win with the head alone. Certainly you try and study your rivals to find the right formula to beat them, but when it comes down to it, you still need to have the legs."
Following the Italian Federation's recent decision to bar riders who have served doping suspensions from competing for the national team, Petacchi has been linked with a potential switch to Kazakhstan in order to line up at the Worlds in Copenhagen. He was suspended for a positive test for asthma drug Salbutamol in 2007, while he was also placed under investigation as part of the Padova doping inquiry last year.
Petacchi confirmed to Cyclingnews that he was examining the feasibility of riding for another country in September. "We'll see. If there's a possibility, I'll do it."
While Danilo Di Luca has led opposition to the new regulation, which also eliminated a string of the biggest names in Italian cycling from the national championships last weekend, Petacchi did not believe that there was anything the riders could do about it.
"I don't think so," he said, shaking his head. "In Italy, I don't think so."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.