Coming under the red kite, Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) was looking set to seal his status as the top sprinter in the Giro d'Italia. Tucked snugly in Danilo Hondo's slipstream and with the HTC-Highroad train seemingly derailed, the man from La Spezia must have fancied his chances during stage 10 as the peloton bowled down the finishing straight.
In opening his sprint with 250 metres to go, however, Petacchi did little more than offer the perfect lead-out to a grateful Mark Cavendish, who cruised past to take his first stage win of this Giro.
After the finish, Petacchi was a picture of regret as he spoke to reporters in the shadow of the podium, the bleakness of his expression spectacularly at odds with the colourful bouquet of flowers he had just been awarded as leader of the points competition.
"I made a mistake, I went too early," Petacchi said dolefully. "Having Cavendish on my wheel and going so early on a finish like that, at 250 metres to go, I just gave him the victory."
Petacchi ultimately faded to finish third behind Cavendish and Francisco Ventoso (Movistar). Although he had insisted that his sprint form was in doubt before the Giro began, the fruits of Petacchi's April training camp at Etna has been apparent throughout the race, particularly on the slopes of the volcano itself on Sunday.
"I'm sorry because my teammates worked very hard, and they really wanted me to win here," Petacchi said quietly, praising the efforts of Alessandro Spezialetti in particular. "It was a nice stage too - fast, although maybe there was a bit too much of a headwind."
With pure bunch finishes at a premium in this Giro, Petacchi, Cavendish et al know that they have limited opportunity to shine before the mountains loom definitively into view.
Were there any lessons Petacchi could take from this defeat ahead of what many feel will be the final remaining sprint showdown in Ravenna on Thursday? "I don't need to learn. I've been doing sprints for 16 years," Petacchi growled.
Ten days into the race, the score in the Giro's much-anticipated sprint match reads Cavendish 1, Petacchi 1. Next goal wins.
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