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Petacchi-Cipollini 1-0 - Updated
By Fabio
Date: 2/24/2004
Petacchi-Cipollini 1-0 - Updated

As fully predictable, the opening stage (from Viareggio to Capannori over 174 km.) of the 6th "Giro della Provincia di Lucca", the first race of the year featuring both Alessandro Petacchi and Mario Cipollini at the startline, ended in a "clash of giants" between the two sprinter specialists.

And not surprisingly the winner was the "Sprinter Gentleman", at his season debut, who pipped the "Lion King" on the line. Venetian sprinter Angelo Furlan of Alessio-Bianchi came in third at 01". Saeco's new signing Gabriele Balducci added another excellent result to his early season collection.

The Fassa Bartolo specialist sprinter is not stranger to victory in this part of the season: on February 23, 2003, he wrote the first page of the most sensational year of his career by taking the Trofeo Luis Puig in Spain. But what a difference 366 days (and 24 wins, 15 of which in grand Tour stages) make! If one year ago Petacchi was just one the fastest guy in the pro peloton, now he's acknowledged by many as the best sprinter in the world.

And that's something the toppled, but proud Lion King can hardly accept. Such that the same Cipollini recently and not unexpectedly threw down the gauntlet at the Fassa Boy. Petacchi took it up and accepted the challenge, and the scene of the first duel between the two were the Tuscan roads of "Giro di Lucca", home roads for Lucca's very own Cipollini, and something similar also for his rival, who's from the nearby Ligurian province of La Spezia.

Actually there was someone daring to steal them the show today, and for more than 130 km! It was the 24-year-old Slovenian Dean Podgornik (Tenax), who went on a solo break early into the stage, and stayed clear for 135 km., until he was brought back with 22k to the line.

After the Slovene, four-time winner in the past season when riding with the Perutnina Ptuj (small team of his own country) outfit was caught, Cipo's Domina Vacanze teammates kept the pace high at the front of the bunch. In spite of this, one more breakaway attempt came, courtesy of Landbouwkrediet's Lorenzo Bernucci. But, needless to say, the young Italian couldn't succeed, while De Nardi's Simone Cadamuro (winner of GP Doha in Qatar more than three weeks ago) and Marco Zanotti of Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie hit the ground, thankfully without major consequences, and were immediately back in the saddle.

With the Domina Vacanze-led peloton averaging a speed of 55 kph in the last lap of the 12.3-km. final circuit, it was impossible for anyone to go clear, such that it all came down to a "bunch" sprint.

Bunch? Well, in fact it was just a two-man affair: after Gian Matteo Fagnini, back to Cipo's train after a couple years with Erik Zabel at Team Telekom, had his leadout work done with about 200m to go, there was just Super Mario and Petacchi battling for victory. It was the Domina Vacanze guy that started the sprint, the way he did many other times with good results, but this time his rival proved strong around to come around him in the last metres and take the win. The rest of the field, including sprinters such as Furlan, Balducci, Danilo Hondo, Klemencic and Fabrizio Guidi, could only watch the bottom of two main stars of the race.

"It was a fair, correct sprint, and I managed to pass him in the last 100 metres. I think that my condition is quite good, although today's was quite an easy ride, and I need to test my legs on the climbs too" a satisfied Petacchi told Gazzetta dello Sport in post-race talks.

The fact that, even if Petacchi was at his debut whereas Cipollini had more than a race in his legs, he managed to outsprint Cipo, may be a good sign for him. But prudent Alessandro said that "Every race is a different story. And it's just possible that Mario may have had a bad day today", also adding that "the fact the rest of the field finished in a different time could mean that both of us had a good sprint, but the fact he took part in some races before while I didn't may not mean that much. Perhaps I was just well-trained, and came here in a good condition in spite of the lack of races in my legs".

So the first battle of what might be a season-long war went to Petacchi. But Cipo could wait no more than 24 hours to take revenge, as tomorrow's 173-km. second stage, from Massarosa the seaside resort of Lido di Camaiore, is another one for the fastets wheels of the bunch. Better, for the wheels of Alessandro Petacchi and Mario Cipollini.

Stage 1 (Viareggio-Capannori, km. 174): Results - Top 20 Places
1. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita - Fassa Bortolo) - 04h24'14" (39.51 kph)
2. Mario Cipollini (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - s.t.
3. Angelo Furlan (Ita - Alessio-Bianchi) - at 01"
4. Gabriele Balducci (Ita - Saeco) - s.t.
5. Danilo Hondo (Ger - Gerolsteiner) - s.t.
6. Zoran Klemencic (Slo - Tenax) - s.t.
7. Fabrizio Guidi (Ita - Team CSC) - s.t.
8. Crescenzo D’Amore (Ita - Acqua & Sapone-Caffé Mokambo) - s.t.
9. Philippe Gilbert (Bel - - s.t.
10. Gian Matteo Fagnini (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - s.t.
11. Nicola Gavazzi (Ita - Saeco) - s.t.
12. Christophe Detilloux (Bel - Lotto-Domo) - s.t.
13. Ivan Fanelli (Ita - Amore & Vita-Beretta ) - s.t.
14. Bostjan Mervar (Slo - Formaggi Pinzolo Fiavè) - s.t.
15. Jan Svorada (Cze - Lampre) - s.t.
16. Ruben Bongiorno (Arg - Ceramiche Panaria-Margres) - s.t.
17. Mirko Lorenzetto (Ita - De Nardi) - s.t.
18. Maksym Rudenko (Ukr - Chocolade Jacques-Wincor-Nixdorf ) - s.t.
19. Elio Aggiano (Ita - LPR-Piacenza) - s.t.
20. Fabio Borghesi (Ita - Miche) - s.t.

GC after Stage 1: Top 10 Places
1. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita - Fassa Bortolo) - 04h24'04"
2. Mario Cipollini (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - at 04"
3. Angelo Furlan (Ita - Alessio-Bianchi) - at 07"
4. Gabriele Balducci (Ita - Saeco) - at 11"
5. Danilo Hondo (Ger - Gerolsteiner) - s.t.
6. Zoran Klemencic (Slo - Tenax) - s.t.
7. Fabrizio Guidi (Ita - Team CSC) - s.t.
8. Crescenzo D’Amore (Ita - Acqua & Sapone-Caffé Mokambo) - s.t.
9. Philippe Gilbert (Bel - - s.t.
10. Gian Matteo Fagnini (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - s.t.

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