Here's a statistic for you: in his last eleven races of any kind, Alessandro Petacchi has seven wins. He missed one sprint in the Settimana Lombarda, and dropped back in a hillier stage. His team took fourth in the opening TTT of the Giro. And he had no business winning the GP Industria e Artigianato. Other than that, he has done nothing but win. He won a TTT in the Settimana. He won the Giro di Toscana, his home race. He won the Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen. He has outsprinted Napolitano, Gavazzi, Bos, and now Cavendish, Swift, Davis and Farrar. There hasn't been much of a train; instead, we just get the locomotive:
Petacchi beats Cavendish in Giro from Universal Sports (via sportsnetwork) -- [this appears to be video posted by Universal Sports on youtube, i.e. a legitimate source. If so, this is one more reason to be grateful to these guys right now.]
Today wasn't quite as exciting; maybe it was the slight uphill that makes everything look like it's in slow motion. But with the field splintered somewhat by crashes, Petacchi was in total control, save for a too-late challenge from a very fast Tyler Farrar. That was a nice win. But for sprinters these days, nothing compares with beating Cavendish, straight up, no tricks.
All I can say about the guy is that he is aging nicely. The scandals and falls of the past few years have dented his once-untouchable image, and while the scandal (overuse of prescription meds) may or may not be meaningful, the sight of him coming in second -- or worse -- has been kind of pitiful. From his Fassa Bortolo days he always had his train shepherding him to the pointy end of the sprints, and when Milram geared up for more of this treatment, with no payoff, it just seemed like a terrible way to run a team.
The fact that he has emerged at Team Lpr with no big train, and that he's completely gotten himself together, is a nice late-career statement. Perhaps he never really needed that train. Perhaps he's not done as a top-flight sprinter. If at 35 he doesn't dominate all year, he still certainly knows how to peak. With Cavendish planning a strategic (and much-needed, IMHO) exit in the next week, the race could use Ale-Jet in his classic form to enliven the occasional sprints. As il Giro Centenario reflects on its history, who better represents the race's fast finishers than the man who once bagged nine stages in a single Giro?