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Notes From the Italy Desk

The desk floats across the Mediterranean, landing on the shores of the costa amalfitano...

Bryn Lennon

Ale-Jet Reaches Final Destination

Alessandro Petacchi is officially "taking a pause" from cycling, amid rumors that he's actually retiring. In fact, he has terminated his contract with Lampre and says he lacks the impetus to continue right now, but has clearly left open the possibility of a return. Assuming he's done, here are the numbers.

  • 18 years;
  • 183 victories;
  • 22 stages of the Giro, including a record-setting nine in the 2004 race alone;
  • 20 Vuelta stages (including two sets of five stages in a single race);
  • 6 Tour de France stages (four in 2003).
  • He won the points competition at all three grand tours, including oddly enough his 2010 Tour win that only included two stage victories.
  • He won the other two races great sprinters need on their resume, Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Tours.

His ascendancy coincided with Mario Cipollini's downslope, and although the Lion King was parading around in rainbow stripes in 2003, the mantle had been passed to Petacchi by that summer. The two traded blows (Petacchi winning 6-2) in Giro sprints, but Petacchi shut out Cipo at the Tour (4-0) and the game was up. From there, the Fassa Bortolo train dominated the sprints through 2005, dropping off Ale-Jet at a high speed from where he could sustain a long, fast, unbeatable run to the line. Success came more sporadically starting in 2006, when he jumped to Milram, but his final great achievement as Lampre's man in the 2010 Tour added "crafty point-getter" to his list of qualities.

It was a great run. But my single most memorable moment was after his crash in stage 3 of the 2006 Giro, in the Netherlands, when Petacchi rode 50km to the finish, only to find out that his kneecap was fractured and he needed to stop. By then I think we were calling him a temperamental train-sprinter, and certainly that format propelled him to his greatest success. But he was also a cyclist, in need of no reminders to HTFU.

His career will be shaded by doping accusations, which may not have finished, and if so, that's just one more sad chapter from his era. Honestly, we can do the math. But given the status of his rivals (also shady) and the pulp he beat them into, it's safe to say that in the end he was still one hell of a sprinter.

Random thing I learned from watching the Giro del Trentino

Astana's jerseys have a nice diagonal stripe, like a royal sash, across the back. Very regal. Looks great on Nibali. Why didn't I notice this sooner? Maybe because I haven't seen too many races not involving rain capes?

Slightly less random observation: Astana are kind of awesome. But more on that next week.

How Predictive is Trentino?

Tune-up races have to be judged very carefully, with the eyes of someone who knows what a strong rider looks like. Too bad, because I tend to be better at reading a results page than seeing who's doing what on the road. Still, results don't lie, and give us something to work backward from (e.g., dude won, must have been strong). With that in mind, the Shark is looking very solid for the Giro d'Italia.

Four times in the last ten years, the winner of Trentino went on to win the Giro d'Italia. That's a high enough percentage to tell you that winning Trentino portends good things next month. But Trentino is a 2.HC event, meaning not every World Tour team even shows up, which necessarily leaves a lot of potential Giro d'Italia challengers out of the conversation. So, expect Nibali to do well, but we don't really get to say whether he's in better or worse shape now than Ryder Hesjedal.

[Hesjedal, by the way, looked perfectly good, and tremendously determined, in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a race that's even less predictive of Giro d'Italia success. So make of that what you will.]

It's probably more accurate to say that riders faltering in Trentino probably aren't going to win the Giro, but even there you have to tread carefully. Is Bradley Wiggins' star fading? Fat chance. He put in a hell of a chase Saturday after his shifters failed him, only to slow down on the really steep stuff. The story (h/t Jens) is that after he got pissed and threw his bike because his electronic shifters failed him (boo-frickin-hoo!), they gave him an overgeared bike off the top of the car, and he lost his rhythm on the steeps. But before then he looked like the strongest guy in the field. And that's with three weeks to go before the time trial that will define the Giro.

Rubbing Elbows

Minor point, but Sir Bradley showed his prickly side on a video making the YouTube rounds. No, not his bike toss -- which was pure genius. For his next trick, he will throw his bike across this high wire. Rather, it was back in the start area, where some VIPs were milling around, and one older man makes the mistake of grabbing Wiggo's elbow as he poses for a picture. My vague sense of (actual) Italians is that this is a common gesture of friendliness back in the Old Country. But Wiggins objects, then takes time out of his day to embarrass the man, explaining his fear of being touched or something. Seriously, if he doesn't like being touched by fans, this is a bad sport for him, and an even worse country. Wiggo's Italian Adventure is going to be an interesting one.

Coming soon... I will try to say nice things about Diego Ulissi and other Lampre guys, after dissing them earlier in the week. Of course, it would help if Ulissi weren't skipping the Giro, but whatever.