Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s second place finish in the opening team time trial of the Giro d’Italia put Alessandro Petacchi within five seconds of the maglia rosa at the beginning of stage 2, but even though he has the blessing of his team leader Rigoberto Uran, the veteran Italian insists that he is unlikely to contest the anticipated sprint finish in Belfast.
Only Orica-GreenEdge were quicker than QuickStep over the 21.7 kilometre course on Friday evening, a performance that leaves Uran with an early lead of 50 seconds over fellow countryman Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and 1:28 over Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), the two principal pre-race favourites.
Their display also means that Petacchi is just five seconds behind overall leader Svein Tuft and given his recent sprint victory at the GP Pino Cerami, the Italian seems the man best-placed to try and divest the Orica-GreenEdge squad of the pink jersey, particularly given that there are 13 bonus seconds on offer on Saturday, between the intermediate sprint at Carrickfergus and the finale in Belfast.
Speaking to Cyclingnews in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter on Saturday morning, however, Petacchi explained that the team’s priority on stage 2 was to maintain Uran’s early advantage rather than attempt to manoeuvre their way into the pink jersey.
“I won’t go for the sprint today – the important thing is not to lose time with Rigoberto. It’s going to be a tough day. It’s long stage, it’s going to rain all day long and we’re going to have to stay united,” Petacchi said.
This time twelve months ago, Petacchi’s career was in hiatus after he rescinded his contract with Lampre-Merida, but he was coaxed out of semi-retirement last summer to join his former rival Mark Cavendish’s lead-out train. With Cavendish absent from the Giro this year, Petacchi is the quickest rider in QuickStep’s line-up.
If Petacchi were to land the bonus seconds required – and deny GreenEdge’s fast-finishing Michael Matthews – the 40-year-old rider would also become oldest rider ever to wear the pink jersey at the Giro. Uran gave his teammate the green light on Friday evening – “Petacchi is Petacchi, he can do the sprint,” the Colombian told Gazzetta dello Sport – but the man himself was circumspect.
“I think Rigoberto already has a nice advantage on some of his direct rivals and it’s important to maintain that. The Giro is a race that you can start winning right from the very first day,” Petacchi said. “We’ve started very well, so it’s better to concentrate on winning the Giro as a team rather than on the possibility of me taking the pink jersey today.”
The peloton were bathed by a steady drizzle as they set out from Belfast, and with rain expected to be general all over County Antrim on Saturday, Petacchi anticipates a day where vigilance will be required and a potentially treacherous city-centre finish.
“It could be a risky finale. There’s a bend with 300 metres to go,” he said. “We’ll see how it pans out, but I really don’t think I’ll be going for it.”