Alessandro Petacchi hadn’t won a stage in the Tour de France since 2003 and surprisingly the most successful sprinter of the last decade has only raced fourteen days (in 2003 and 2004) at the world’s biggest race.
He won four stages in 2003 but quit the 2004 after stage six and had not returned the Tour since then.
“It’s been partly my choice that I haven’t come back at the Tour de France for the past six years, partly because of a crash and also for other reasons." Petacchi said.
The Italian fractured his kneecap on stage 3 of the 2006 Giro d’Italia and that accident almost ended his career. A positive dope test for Salbutamol at the 2007 Giro d’Italia was another blow. He was eventually banned and lost some of his victories. Since then the anti-doping regulations have changed and a high level of Salbutamol no longer sparks a positive test if the athlete suffers from allergies and has a Therapeutic Use Exemption certificate. Petacchi had the Tour de France on his program in 2008 but he lost his CAS appeal and subsequently lost his job at Milram and was banned in July.
“This morning at the start of the stage, I felt the tension of the Tour de France again”, Petacchi said with a hint of satisfaction.
“During the stage, the memories of the last two Tour de France I did, came back to mind. It’s wonderful to win again at the Tour. It was a risky sprint. But to win at my age (36) gives me hopes for the future. I’m contracted with Lampre again for next year. This is also a reward for the Galbusera family, who own the Lampre company and for Team Manager Giuseppe Saronni who have believed in my comeback.”
Petacchi refuted the idea that his win was unexpected and the result of Mark Cavendish’s crash.
“There’s always a lot of confusion in the first sprint of the Tour”, the Italian said. “I don’t know what happened to Cavendish and Freire but there were still a lot of other sprinters to beat! There was a strong headwind too. I started from a long way out. I took a risk but I also knew it would have been difficult to go back up to people. I’ve done a great sprint. Had Cavendish still been there, it’s not sure I would have lost to him.”
Last year Petacchi was faster than Cavendish at the end of stage one in the Giro d’Italia. His spectacular come back at the Tour de France might have been a fortunate win but showed he is back to his best after six years away from the Tour.
Scott Sunderland's stage analysis:
Today's stage started off quiet enough with the overall contenders and the sprinters teams happy to let the breakaway go right from the start. But you never know what's around the next corner in professional cycling. That’s what makes it so fantastic to watch.
It's easy to understand why the riders wanted a steady day and it was clear that the stage was always going to finish in a sprint.
Unfortunately the first crash happened on the tight corner. Everyone was still pretty fresh and there wasn't enough room for everyone to stay at the front.
I understand that Cavendish touched wheels with Bernie Eisel and went across the road. After that it was chaos with a lack of communication between the riders and teams. Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt.
Petacchi read the sprint well, using his experience to bridge the gap and time his acceleration just right on the slightly uphill finish. It was good to see Mark Renshaw up there but both Cav and Freire failed to score any points and so they are a day down in what could be close battle for the points jersey. Teams will focus on going for stage wins for the first week but then tally up the points and decide their strategy for the final part of the race.
I've studied the finale of Monday's stage and I hope the overall contenders have too. The run-in to the Stockeu climb is tricky and there are cobbles in the town at the bottom. The Stockeu could cause splits in the peloton and so cause problems for Cancellara and the other overall contenders. It's going to be another good stage to watch.