Alessandro Petacchi formally rejoins the professional peloton on Thursday and is set to ride his first official race for his new team Omega Pharma-QuickStep at the Eneco Tour, which gets underway on August 12, after riding a couple of criteriums in Belgium in the days beforehand.
The 39-year-old Italian began the season at Lampre-Merida but announced his retirement in late April, saying it was time “to dedicate time for myself and to go in search of new interests.”
Two days later, however, Petacchi was linked with a switch to Omega Pharma-QuickStep, but he was unsuccessful in his attempts to sign for the team in time to serve as Mark Cavendish’s lead-out man for the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, as mid-season transfers are not permitted before August 1.
“I trained like a animal to get ready. First I hoped to do the Giro, then the Tour. I was going really well,” Petacchi told Gazzetta dello Sport on Wednesday. “But there was nothing to be done. I appealed to the UCI and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but nothing. They considered this move like a transfer, even though I had already stopped racing.”
Cavendish had already approached Petacchi to be his lead-out man last summer but with the Manxman’s 2013 squad still uncertain at the time, Petacchi opted to remain put at Lampre for another season. He denied that he announced his retirement in April simply to free himself from his contract with Lampre, and said that he was only contacted by Omega Pharma-QuickStep after the news was made public.
“Two days later, [Omega Pharma team doctor Yvan] Van Mol called me,” Petacchi said. “I want to make clear that I didn’t stop with Lampre to move to Omega. I’m sorry that the (Lampre) owner Galbusera was upset but I didn’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.”
Instead, Petacchi said that he retired simply because he was riding “without motivation” at Lampre. His last victory was a stage at Bayern Rundfahrt last year, and Lampre signed Roberto Ferrari during the off-season to be the team’s sprinter at the Giro and Tour.
“Riding like that didn’t make sense anymore. I was going to races without any motivation, it was depressing,” Petacchi said. “It seemed to me like I was taking the team for a ride, so I spoke with [manager Giuseppe] Saronni and we reached an agreement. I wasn’t doing my duty as a professional well. There were no other problems. That was the first thing that Omega asked me too.”
With Omega Pharma-Quick Step for all of 2014
Petacchi has penned a deal with Omega Pharma-QuickStep that keeps him in the professional peloton until the end of 2014 – “They made me a very interesting offer and it would have been stupid to refuse” – and his role will be to aid Cavendish and Tom Boonen in the sprints, “a bit like Zabel did with me at Milram.”
“Obviously, it’s in my nature to be a sprinter but it’s not the first time I’ve done this job,” Petacchi said of his lead-out role. “My job will finish 200 or 300 metres from the line. The responsibilities are different, but they’re still there.”
Although Omega Pharma-QuickStep also seem set to add Mark Renshaw to their lead-out train for 2014, Petacchi said that Cavendish was still keen on the idea of having his old rival as a teammate.
“He’s happy that I’m there,” Petacchi said. “Away from races, Mark is a completely different boy to the guy you see after the finish line, when sometimes, if he doesn’t win, he loses control a bit. But you can’t imagine the adrenaline of a sprint.”