Cavendish brushes off Petacchi questions, but failed signing could haunt Omega leadout

Former world champion says the failed signing of Italian sprinter isn't a distraction, but his leadout could be impacted

Photo: Graham Watson

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NAPLES, Italy (VN) — Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) brushed off questions today about the possibility of Alessandro Petacchi joining his leadout at the Belgian squad, which has struggled at times to position the former world champion in bunch sprints this season. His team tried to sign Petacchi on the eve of the Giro d’Italia, but UCI rules prohibited the recently retired Italian from signing a contract.

“We come here with a strong team,” Cavendish said in a press conference today. “I’m sure the guys can do a good job here.”

In the weeks leading up to the season’s first grand tour, cracks have appeared in casa Omega. Cavendish has missed a number of opportunities and complained publicly about his leadout train after failing to win Scheldeprijs in early April.

“Once again,” he said after Scheldeprijs, “I was left alone in the final.”

Omega Pharma GM Patrick Lefevere told VeloNews that he talked to Cavendish about the disaster. The team’s top brass met to discuss what they would do with the grand tours approaching.

One idea Lefevere forwarded was to hire Petacchi, who raced Paris-Roubaix with his former Lampre-Merida team, but retired on April 23.

Lefevere lobbied the UCI, but was unable to persuade it to change its midseason transfer rules to accommodate the hiring.

State of emergency

The Scheldeprijs blow-up and failed Petacchi signing betrayed Cavendish’s claims of faith in his leadout. the team’s sprint unit is in a state of emergency, far from ideal heading into a three-week tour.

Cavendish, when asked if he was upset about Petacchi not racing, focused on his current team.

“We come here with a strong team. We have a mix of riders, we have a strong leadout. Matteo Trentin is back after his scaphoid fracture,” Cavendish said. “I know the guys did a good job in the Tour of Turkey and I’m sure the guys can do a good job here.”

Omega Pharma fielded Trentin and Gert Steegmans to leadout Cavendish in the hectic Giro sprints. Iljo Keisse will work in the final three-to-five kilometers as road captain. His job is to put the various pieces in place ahead of the final surge.

However, given the Petacchi push, it seems Cavendish wanted more. Lefevere explained that he could do little until the 2013 season ends. At year-end, expiring contracts offer him free space to sign specify riders to lead out cycling’s top gun.

Cavendish downplayed the drama today.

“We won a lot, the Tour of Qatar overall. Things have been going great; it’s been my most successful start to the year,” he explained. “Maybe things didn’t go well in the end, but there are things you can work on and it’s a different part of the season.”

He might have underestimated the impact of the recent news, however. The UCI stopped Petacchi’s transfer for now, but behind the scenes, the Italian and the team are still trying to join forces for the Tour de France. Such news will undermine the team lining up around Cavendish in Naples Saturday and may embolden his rivals like Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge), John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida).

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