Alessandro Petacchi could be set to make an unexpected return to the peloton to act as leadout to Mark Cavendish at Omega Pharma-Quick Step, possibly as soon as the Giro d’Italia which starts a week today in Naples – just days after announcing that he was leaving his Lampre-Merida team with immediate effect.
A statement from the 39-year-old in which he said goodbye to his fans and gave thanks to all those who supported him during his career certainly suggested that he had ridden his final race at the top level.
However, according today's print edition of the Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport, Omega Pharma-Quick Step believe that Petacchi could be the solution to Cavendish’s dissatisfaction with his leadout train, having failed to up a string of early season successes including the overall in the Tour of Qatar.
The pair have had their differences in the past – notably, following Stage 2 of the 2011 Giro d’Italia, where Cavendish believed Petacchi had failed to hold his line as he beat him to the line in Parma, though the Manxman had the consolation of taking over the maglia rosa from then HTC-Highroad team mate Marco Pinotti.
As Petacchi pointed out, there is a precedent close to home of a once near-unbeatable sprinter dropping down to support a younger rider – he himself benefited from the leadout of the great Erik Zabel towards the end of the latter’s own career, and the German would go on to coach Cavendish at HTC.
While Petacchi told the Gazzetta yesterday that he had not yet had contact from Cavendish’s team, the newspaper says that it has received confirmation from “reliable sources” that Omega Pharma-Quick Step is seriously considering engaging the Italian’s services, if not for the Giro then possibly in time for the Tour de France.
In the 2010 edition of that race, Petacchi completed his set of Grand Tour points jerseys, becoming only the fourth man to do so – were he to ride in the Giro for Omega Pharma-Quick Step, he could be in a position to help Cavendish, a points classification winner in the 2010 Vuelta and 2011 Tour de France but who missed out in last year’s Italian Grand Tour by a solitary point, join that elite club.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.