"I got stuck on the outside through the turn. I pushed Maximiliano [Richeze] with my hand, otherwise I would have crashed," recalled Alessandro Petacchi of Milram after the sprint in Giro d'Italia stage five, won by Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner). The final kilometre into Frascati was a rough run for his sprint team - it faced multiple curves and aggressive adversaries.
Petacchi went shoulder-to-shoulder with Argentinean Maximiliano Richeze (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare), who at first had the best of the Italian but then faded and finished seventh. "If I did not reach out to touch Richeze then I would have ended up on the street. Basta!" finished Petacchi, who has 20 giro stage victories to his name.
"There is no longer respect," commented Petacchi's last lead-out man, Alberto Ongarato, to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "If you did something like this in the times of Cipollini or Museeuw, I would want to see how that would end up!"
Off of Via Conti di Tuscolo, the riders faced a left, right and then a hard right-hander, at -250m, before the finale on Via Vittorio Veneto. Because of the number of turns it made it difficult for the judges to rule on which rider had the proper line and which rider was riding dangerously.
Petacchi nearly crashed himself into the left-side barriers and gave Richeze a nudge in the fight for space.
"I did not block anyone," responded Richeze in perfect Italian. "I was on the wheel of Hushovd, and when Ongarato went I made my sprint. It is not true that I closed in on Petacchi. In fact, he took my jersey after the finish and gave me a punch."
Mario Cipollini had to deal with many challengers in his days of sprint supremacy but always seemed to overcome any problems due to his speed. After the stage he commented on the sprint in a diary that he writes for the Italian paper.
"It is true that Richeze was wrong to impede Petacchi on two occasions," wrote retired Cipollini. "But Ongarato had a moment of hesitation and he was anticipating the Argentinean; instead, Alberto needed to start without fearing being so far from the finish. In fact, it was fundamental to launch Petacchi to the front in the last 'S' turn, at which point no one would be able to remount [a sprint]."