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SYDNEY (VN)—It does not take long to understand why Alessandro Petacchi (Southeast Pro Cycling) is often referred to as the “Gentleman Sprinter.”
After all, the 41-year-old Italian is soft-spoken and well-manicured, and possesses movie-star good looks. But the charming native of the north-western coastal region of Liguria is quick to admit that while he has nearly 200 career wins, including 100 on the UCI ProTour, and points jerseys from all three grand tours, he has never considered himself a sprinter.
“When I arrived as a professional I was a completely different rider,” Petacchi told VeloNews during the 51st Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey last week. “In 2000, Giancarlo Ferretti (Fasso Bortolo) said to the team ‘tomorrow we try for sprint with Petacchi’ and I win in the Vuelta – and after I win 100 races.
“But I’m not really a sprinter,” he continued. “I have my progression, but now for sure to make this progression I have to have very good condition – but now I am 41 years old.”
With the 98th Giro d’Italia getting underway, 2004 points classification winner Petacchi, who has a staggering 48 grand tour stage wins, including 22 at the Giro, believes he still has more to give his Italian-registered Southeast squad before he rides off into the sunset for a second – and perhaps final – time.
“The Giro still drives me,” said Petacchi, who walked away from the sport while riding for Lampre-Merida in April 2013 before un-retiring in August by joining Etixx-QuickStep – where he remained until the end of the 2014 season.
“I know my body better than ever and I no longer have to train for six or seven hours a day,” he admitted. “I know my sprint and I know when I have good position, and when I have legs I can win – but it’s not easy.”
When asked what still motivates the 2005 Milan-San Remo champion, the nine-time Tirreno-Adriatico and three-time Paris-Nice stage winner was quick to respond.
“I love cycling, and I am excited about La Spezia because that is where I was born,” said Petacchi about the 152km fifth stage from his birthplace to Abetone. “I know it will not be easy but that stage is special to me.”
However, cycling – and the Giro – have not always returned the affection.
In 2008, the Court of Arbitration of Sport disqualified Petacchi’s results at the 2007 Giro after they ruled he “inadvertently consumed” excessive doses of prescribed medication resulting in a positive result for the asthma drug Salbutamol – a charge Petacchi vehemently denied.
As for his legacy, Petacchi told VeloNews his biggest contribution to the world is his son, Alessandro Jr, who turns seven years old on Sunday, May 10, while cycling is a distant second.
“Being a good father – and a good husband – are the most important things to me,” he shared. “I have been racing bikes for 20 years and I am sure I will always be in the sport as I am not qualified for anything else.
“My wife, Anna Chiara, would like me home more so I will sit down after the Giro and talk to her and team general manager Angelo Citracca about my future.
“Perhaps I will race another year or perhaps I will take another role with the team,” Petacchi concluded. “Either way, I still have more to give the sport of cycling, but when it’s over I hope I will be remembered for the man I am off the bike as well as the victories.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.