Petacchi revs to success on Mugello

Ale-Jet flies over Hushovd and Bettini, Pinotti keeps Rosa

Alessandro Petacchi revved his big engine to success on the Mugello race track in Tuscany. Team Milram had its cylinders pumping hard in the finale with Lancaster and then Ongarato to deliver the 33 year-old Italian to the win over Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), Paolo Bettini (Quickstep-Innergetic) and Danilo Napolitano (Lampre-Fondital). Marco Pinotti (T-Mobile) enjoyed his first full day in pink and arrived safely to keep the leader's Maglia Rosa.

"I had good sensations and I was able to make a great sprint," said Petacchi after taking Giro win number 21, the second in this year's edition. "I know that that there were other sprinters who were more tired than me [after the climb]. The team really put its faith in me. Also, thanks to my teammates at home, like Marco Velo."

Quickstep did the majority of the work today, especially to bring back the escape of four that at one point had a lead of 11 minutes and 30 seconds. Once the escape was reeled in, at 39 kilometres to go, the Belgian team did not ease off of the pace and kept the throttle down all the way to the Mugello race track.

Once on the track, Milram took the reins of the peloton. Petacchi had six men on the front with three kilometres to go and looked to be in control of the finale. But there was a scare when Salvatore Commesso (Tinkoff) launched an attack.

Totò's move only lasted 1,500 metres. After the Italian was caught at 1,000 metres to go, Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC) hit Milram hard. The Swiss gave the Italian team a run for its money. Brett Lancaster (Milram) kept pulling hard on the front for the next 400 metres and peeled off at 600 metres to go. Teammate Alberto Ongarato took over and caught Cancellara at 250 metres to the line, and then he turned the sprint over to team captain Petacchi at 175 metres to go.

"I am getting better day by day," Petacchi continued. "I think all the bad moments have passed. I am now restarting and doing the sprints how I should be doing them. I think Hushovd did very well today, he showed a lot of force. I think McEwen [finished 14th - ed.] suffered a little on the climb but tomorrow will be another day and I will watch for him."

World Champion Bettini came up on the right but he did not have the legs to close down Petacchi. Norwegian Hushovd snuck up on the left of the day's winner to get second.

"We tried to organize ourselves over the long stage," said Bettini of Quickstep's team tactics. "The final was nervous, and we tried to make the sprinters work a lot. I think Petacchi benefited from our work but it is like that.

"It is easier to lose a stage against those sprinters, Petacchi and Hushovd, and the others, than to win. I really wanted to win here in my home region, with my wife and daughter present. ... Everyday that passes is an opportunity that I miss. But, today was the first day that I have raced with good sensations."

Napolitano battled with Hushovd in the last 300 to 200 metres and finally lost the fight for Bettini's wheel. However, the Italian kept going, following the Hushovd's wheel, and then came around on the right of Petacchi and Bettini, while Hushovd approached on the left.

"In that last climb Quickstep really made a hard tempo. I was able to re-join on the decent," commented Napolitano, who has yet to win a Giro stage. Regarding the struggle with Hushovd, he added, "I lost my space, and it was too late to remount on Bettini and Petacchi."

Marco Pinotti was all smiles at the finish; the Italian from Bergamo enjoyed his day in the general classification lead without having to work too hard.

"I am very happy to be in the maglia, and the emotions don't seem to stop," said "Pino" after the finish. "I keep getting phone calls of congratulations - I have hardly had a moment of rest since I took the jersey yesterday."

He wishes to keep the jersey for the next two "flat" days before having to fight for its honour on the 10th stage to Nostra Signora Della Guardia. "I hope my teammates will get help from the other teams in the coming days."

How it unfolded

It was an early start for the gruppo del Giro d'Italia in the beautiful Umbrian town of Spoleto, as 187 riders rolled out on via Marconi on a sunny, windy and warm Saturday for the longest stage of the 2007 Giro d'Italia. The Giro riders were looking at six hours or more, with new Maglia Rosa Marco "Engineer" Pinotti and Maglia Verde Laverde ready to strut their stuff in their new leader’s jerseys.

It took only nine kilometres for an acceptable break to get a gap, as once again, the terrors of Tinkoff had someone away in the person of Elio Aggiano, who was accompanied by big Swiss-Italian chronoman Ruben Bertogliati, Basque boy Beñat Albizuri (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Française de Jeux's Fabien Patanchon.

The quartet escaped in the tiny Umbrian hamlet of Mercatello, then headed north across the Tevere River valley. T-Mobile was riding tempo up front but wasn't going that hard across the beautiful southern Umbrian countryside.

The quartet continued north through the first feed zone along the blue waters of Lago di Trasimeno west of Perugia with the gruppo, still led by Pinotti's T-Mobile team. After 121 kilometres in Castiglion Fiorentino, the hometown of Lampre sprinter Daniele Bennati, the gap was 11", enough for the sprinters' teams to do the calculus that with 130 kilometres to race, they would have to start to ride faster. Petacchi's Milram team hit the front along with McEwen's Predictor riders and cranked up the pace.

70 kilometres later atop the day's one and only GPM of Valico Croci e Mori, Bertogliati powered to the points with the gruppo just one minute behind. The sprinters teams had brought the quartet back to within three minutes lead at the base of the ascent, but then Bettini decided to try and dump some of the sprinters with a hard forcing 55 kilometres before the finish to better his chances for a win. His Quickstep team took over the chase at a frenetic pace and the break was absorbed at 39 kilometres to go and Quickstep stayed on the front until Bettini signalled them to peel off with 10 kilometres to in Scarperia.

Just before the entrance to the Autodromo, it was Discovery Channel's Matt "Whitey" White who tried to sneak away unnoticed but the Milram train rolled the Sydney-sider up with five kilometres to go. Milram stayed in control all the way to the final kilometre, despite attacks by Tinkoff's Totò Commesso and World TT Champ Fabian Cancellara (CSC) in the final kilometre.

Petacchi's lead-out men Brett Lancaster and Alberto Ongarato pulled him perfectly to his launch spot at the 200 metre mark. It was a perfect sprint run-in for Petacchi; wide open, downhill and fast. Clad in his favourite Maglia Ciclamino of the Giro's top sprinter, the speedster from La Spezia made his patented irresistible jump with his 53x11, while behind him, chaos reigned.

Bettini tried to keep Petacchi's wheel, while Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) and Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) battled hard for a better position. Hushovd flicked the Italian with 100 metres to go and powered past Bettini to take second with a nice bike throw, but it was Napolitano, who came from way back to get fourth and who probably rode the fastest final metres. McEwen chose to avoid the hurly burly on the Autodromo di Mugello finish and finished 14th.

Petacchi took his second stage win of the 2007 Giro d'Italia after almost six hours and fifteen minutes of racing at an average speed of 40.668km/hr average. It was his 21st career Giro stage win, equalling his fellow Tuscan Franco "il cuore matto" Bitossi.

Stage 8 - Sunday, May 20: Barberino Di Mugello - Fiorano Modenese, 200 km

Sunday is another transitional stage that starts with climb out of Barberino to the GPM atop Passo della Futa, then across the heart of the Apennine Mountains with tough, up and down terrain that will undoubtedly inspire a breakaway.

At the second GPM atop Passo Sestola after 101 kilometres, there's an 18-kilometre descent to the plains of Emilia, then a flat, fast 80-kilometre run on the plains of Emilia, past Ferrari's HQ in Maranello to finish in Fiorano Modenese, which is the test track of il Cavallino Rampante.

After the early break is reeled in, will a rider from local team Ceramica Panaria-Navigare to try to make his mark in Modena? Or will Ale-Jet Petacchi hit his afterburners for his 22nd stage win in the Giro d'Italia to equal Fausto Coppi and Roger de Vlaeminck?

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