Italian cycling is back! And so is Alessandro Petacchi! The 2007 road season in this sport's #1 nation kicked off Saturday by keeping up (a recent) tradition with the 12th Gran Premio Costa degli Etruschi, a 193-km. effort starting at San Vincenzo and finishing into the equally Tuscan hamlet of Donoratico after a bunch made up of 23 teams - five of which (Quick Step, Liquigas, Lampre, Milram and Saunier Duval) with a Pro Tour license - covered a first half of 94 km., followed by two laps of a circuit of 24 km., and a further five finishing loops of a about 5 km. Local favorites Paolo Bettini (making his 2007 debut in a race passing through his own hometown Cecina) and Alessandro Petacchi were the biggest names in the pack.
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And the Team Milram leader didn't disappoint his fans. After losing thrice - but only to a certain Tom Boonen - in the lands of Qatar, AleJet scored another, much more welcomed, hat-trick: three straight wins in the Italian season opener! He had clinched victory at Donoratico both in the 2005 and 2006 editions of the GP Costa Etruschi, and (oops) he did it again today, this time with Acqua & Sapone's Gabriele Balducci and the Lampreman Daniele Bennati (runner-up to the same "Sprinter Gentleman" twelve months ago) as main victims of the man's sprinting skills, which earned Petacchi his 120th career win as a professional rider, as well as his first journey onto the top of the podium this year. The same podium that South Africa's Robert Hunter missed by a whisker.
With Boonen not around (the Belgian is going to grace the streets of the Balearic Islands of Spain in the upcoming Mallorca Challenge), Petacchi's success was anything but unexpected. But still not an easy one, made even more complicated as Boonen's Quickstep teammate Steven de Jongh fell in the final straight, prolly after "getting in touch" with Balducci, thus forcing the future winner to "restart" his sprinting efforts. "In fact, I had to make two sprints in the final straight" Petacchi said in after-race interviews "but I'm very happy of getting back to victory, notably here, in front of so many fans of mine (one of whom was the popular singer Andrea Bocelli, that's a very good friend of his too). Obviously riding in an ocean of tifosi was also Paolo Bettini, more satisfied with finally racing on home roads with the rainbow jersey on his shoulders than with today's accomplishments (he finished in the middle of the pack) "I worked for De Jongh until 3 km. from the line, then just sat up as my legs are not yet good enough for me to have a go at winning a sprint".
Before the aforementioned athletes, other guys succeded in stealing the show. Like the quartet of Rubens Bertogliati (Swi - Saunier Duval), Giuseppe Palumbo (Ita - Acqua & Sapone-Caffé Mokambo) Cristiano Salerno (Ita - Tenax) and the young Belarusian Yauhen Sobal (Team Cinelli), all of them putting in the first serious attack of the season on Italian soil as they broke away 26 km. into the race and managed to stay clear for about 152 km. A brave effort, that eventually proved fruitless as (to nobody's surprise) the fab four were swallowed by the cruel bunch, led by the "big teams" Liquigas, Milram, Lampre and Quick Step, with just about 15 kilometres remaining. Then 1999 World RR Champion (in the U23 class) Leonardo Giordani - whose legs are currently at the service of the Aurum Hotels (formerly Naturino) team - as well as Ceramiche Flaminia's lesser-known rider Manuele Spadi tried to take the bunch by surprise with two different late moves, but both were quickly chased down.
RACE PHOTOS:Petacchi's joy (and Balducci's disappointment), as well as the trio that climbed today's podium, caught in the pictures below. Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Photo Sirotti © All Rights Reserved.
12th GP Costa degli Etruschi Donoratico: Top 10 Places
1. Petacchi, Alessandro (Ita - Team Milram) - 04h38'
2. Balducci, Gabriele (Ita - Acqua & Sapone-Mokambo) - s.t.
3. Bennati, Daniele (Ita - Lampre-Fondital) - s.t.
4. Hunter, Robert (RSA - Team Barloworld) - s.t.
5. Bonomi, Giosué (Ita - Team Barloworld) - s.t.
6. D'Amore, Crescenzo (Ita - OTC Doors-Lauretana) - s.t.
7. Szchawinsky, Kristofz (Pol - Team Miche) - s.t.
8. Chicchi, Francesco (Ita - Liquigas) - s.t.
9. Summer, Jochen (Aut - Elk Haus) - s.t.
10. Grillo, Paride (Ita - Panaria-Navigare) - s.t.
GP Costa Etruschi - Winners
1996 Fabrizio Guidi (Ita - Scrigno)
1997 Biagio Conte (Ita - Scrigno)
1998 Mario Cipollini (Ita - Saeco)
1999 Endrio Leoni (Ita - Liquigas)
2000 Mario Cipollini (Ita - Saeco)
2001 Fabio Sacchi (Ita - Saeco)
2002 Jury Mitlushenko (Ukr - Landbouwkrediet-Colnago)
2003 Jaan Kirsipuu (Est - AG2R Prevoyance)
2004 Jury Mitlushenko (Ukr - Landbouwkrediet-Colnago)
2005 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita - Fassa Bortolo)
2006 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita - Milram)
2007 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita - Milram)