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Cipollini and Petacchi: A Curious Comparison
 
By Staff
Date: 3/9/2004
Cipollini and Petacchi: A Curious Comparison
 

By Marianne Werz O'Brien

This seems to be a good time to assess the records of Mario Cipollini and Alessandro Petacchi. The question arises – how to go about this? In truth, only after both men have retired can their records be examined with respect to one another’s career, yet the comparisons continue. For this article we are considering their careers through the end of 2003 only, as 2004 is upon us and who knows how many wins they might amass before my analysis is completed?

What we do know is this: Both men are sprinters extraordinaire, unquestionably. Both men can “close the deal” and win the race. Both men broke seemingly unbreakable records in the 2003 season. 


Mario Cipollini wins the World Championship 2002.
Photo by Jeff Tse.

Cipollini took his 42nd career stage win in the Giro d’Italia, surpassing Alfredo Binda’s record 41 which had stood since 1933.

Petacchi won 6 stages in the Giro, 4 stages in the Tour de France, and 5 stages in the Vuelta a Espagna breaking the record for most wins in three Grand Tours in the same year. In 1956 Miguel Poblet won 8 Grand Tour victories – his record fell to Petacchi on stage 5 of the Tour de France. Only one other man has ever managed to win stages in all three Grand Tours in one year - Pierino Baffi who won 6 stages in 1958.


Petacchi at the 2002 Vuelta. Courtesy Unipublic.

We could look at their palmares and say merely “Cipollini has 188 victories to Petacchi’s 56” but that is over simplification and proves nothing. Instead of such a facile approach I have chosen to place their records head to head starting with their first pro year, in Cipollini’s case this will be 1989 with the del Tongo team and for Petacchi the year is 1996 and the team is Scrigno.

Win Summary from 1st Pro Year

Cipollini     vs     Petacchi

1989 - 5            1996 - 0
1990 – 9            1997 – 0
1991 – 15          1998 – 1
1992 – 16          1999 – 0
1993 – 11          2000 – 9
1994 – 7            2001 – 5
1995 – 18          2002 – 12
1996 – 17          2003 – 29
1997 – 16           
1998 – 16           
1999 – 19           
2000 – 9             
2001 – 12           
2002 – 14           
2003 – 4             

Both men started their careers with small teams, Cipollini with del Tonga and Petacchi with Scrigno. A clear difference is shown in the first year they each rode as professionals - Cipollini took five wins including a stage in the Giro d’Italia and Petacchi had none.

This data shows clearly that Cipollini hit the ground running from his first year as a pro-racer, while Petacchi’s streak didn’t begin until the start of his fifth season when he joined Fassa Bortalo in 2000. Cipollini had 45 wins in his first four years compared to Petacchi’s single victory – a stage win at Langkawi.


Cipollini. Daily Peloton.

If we look at total wins for each man in their first eight years racing, again Cipollini tops Petacchi almost 2:1 with 98 victories to 56. Another interesting fact to point out is that Cipollini has had double-digit victories for 10 of the 15 years he has raced, while Petacchi has had the same for only 2 of his 8 years.

(Note: The complete data set used is posted at the end of the article for your perusal.)

It is only fair to note that Petacchi hit his stride later in his career and therefore, as I stated at the outset of the article, it will not be possible to truly compare these men until both have retired. That disclaimer aside, now let’s compare the difficulty of the races each has won!


Petacchi in the leader's jersey on stage 10 of  the 1999 Tour de Langkawi.
Courtesy Tour de Langkawi.

For further analysis then I compared the UCI rating or class of races won for each man, in order to get a sense of the difficulty of the wins. This comparison is problematic if done by number of wins in each category as Cipollini has been racing for seven years longer than Petacchi. In order to display this data in a meaningful fashion I made a chart with the percentage of wins in each category of race for each man.

A little fun with numbers follows.

Percentage of Wins by UCI Class

Race Type  Cipollini Petacchi
1.HC  24%  0%
2.HC  45% 67%
GT 31% 32%

The percentage of Grand Tour wins out of total wins is essentially equal for both men. Cipollini has raced more of the smaller races than has Petacchi, with most of these victories coming in his first five years as a pro. Just under half of Cipollini’s wins are in 2.HC category races, compared to 2/3 of Petacchi’s. 

Grand Tour Victories

Tour Cipollini    Petacchi
Giro  42    6
TdF 12     4
Vuelta  3 8

Both men have proven worthy competitors in the Grand Tours. It is unfortunate that Cipollini did not get an invite to the Tour de France in 2002, as his riding was superb that year winning three stages in the Vuelta and six in the Giro, as well as Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem and the World Championship. In 2003 Petacchi took five stages in the Vuelta, four in the Tour, and Six in the Giro.


Courtesy Cyclingteam.net.

To render any comparison complete it is necessary to look at recent history as well. I had chosen to lay out the case with each man starting from his first year as a pro – side by side. Now we need to also consider where each man sits today.

Clearly 2003 was a cursed year for Cipollini with fewer wins than any year in his entire career. Clearly 2003 was a miraculous year for Petacchi, who scored more victories in that single year than the total sum of his previous 7 years wins. Petacchi also scored more wins in 2003 than Cipollini has ever taken in a single year.

What does this mean? Is it a changing of the guard? Will Petacchi continue his winning ways in 2004? It would appear so at first blush as he has already taken victories, but then so has Cipollini. Petacchi is storming the throne, yes, and may indeed take more wins than Cipollini again this year but I think perhaps it is too early in the season to declare Lion King’s reign over. 


Courtesy Fassa Bortolo.

As to the purpose of this article we now have what I hope is a fair comparison of the two. We can look at their records and discuss on and on, but ultimately the debate over just who is the greatest sprinter of all time will have to wait many more years to be settled.

Miscellaneous Extras

Cipollini
Championships  – 2 (World Road Race, Italian Road Champion)
World Cup races – 1 (Milan-San Remo)

Petacchi
None yet.

Race Results

Mario Cipollini Alessandro Petacchi
   
1989 (5) 1996 (0)
3 stages  Tour des Pouilles  
1 stage Tour d'Italie  
Firenze  
1990 (9) 1997 (0)
Milan-Vignola  
2 stages  Tour des Pouilles  
2 stages  Tour d'Italie  
1 stage Tirreno-Adriatico  
1 stages Trois Jours de La Panne  
Firenze  
Mille Metri del Corso  
1991 (15) 1998 (1)
Grand Prix de l'Escaut 1 stage Tour du Langkawi
Tour de l'Etna  
3 stages  Tour d'Italie -
2 stages  l'Etoile de Béssèges  
2 stages  la Semaine Sicilienne  
2 stages  Tour des Pouilles  
1 stages Trois Jours de La Panne  
Fivizzano  
Mille Metri del Corso (2 séries)  
1992 (16) 1999 (0)
Gand-Wevelgem  
4 stages Tour d'Italie  
3 stages  Paris-Nice  
3 stages s Quatre Jours de Dunkerque  
2 stages  Tour des Pouilles  
1 stage l'Etoile de Béssèges  
1 stages Trois Jours de La Panne  
Lucca  
1993 (11) 2000 (9)
Grand Prix E3 Tour di Lucca
Gand-Wevelgem 2 stages Tour du Luxembourg
Gand Prix de l'Escaut 2 stages  la Route du Sud
Grand Prix Rick Van Steenbergen 2 stages  Tour d'Espagne
3 stages  Paris-Nice 1 stage Reggio Tour
2 stages  Tour Méditerranéen 1 stage Tour di Lucca
1 stage Tour de France  
Roosendaal  
1994 (7) 2001 (5)
2 stages  Tour Méditerranéen 2 stages  la Semaine Lombarde
2 stages  Paris-Nice 1 stage la Semaine Coppi-Bartali
1 stage la Semaine Sicilienne 1 stage l'Euskal Bizicleta
Massa Macinola 1 stage Tour de Pologne
Mille Metri del Corso  
1995 (18) 2002 (12)
Trophée Luis Puig 3 stages  Tour de Valence
Mte Carlo-Alassio 3 stages  la Semaine Coppi-Bartali
3 stages  Tour Méditerranéen 2 stages  Paris-Nice
3 stages  Tour de Catalogne 1 stage Tour d'Espagne
2 stages  Tour de Valence 1 stage Tour Méditerranéen
2 stages  Tour de Romandie 1 stage Regio Tour
2 stages  Tour d'Italie 1 stage Tour de Hollande
2 stages  Tour de France  
Oostvoorne  
Mille Metri del Corso  
1996 (17) 2003 (29)
Championnat d'Italie Trophée Luis Puig
4 stages Tour d'Italie A Travers Gendringen
3 stages  Tour de Romandie 6  stagesTour d'Italie
2 stages  Tour de Valence 5 stages Tour d'Espagne
2 stages  Tour d'Aragon 4 stages Tour de France
2 stages  Tour de Catalogne 3 stages  Tour d'Aragon
1 stage Tour Méditerranéen 2 stages  Tour de Hollande
1 stage Tour de France 1 stage Tour de Valence
Firenze 1 stage Paris-Nice
  Aalst
  Steenwijk
  Oostvoorne
  Pijnacker
  Memorial Denis Zanette

1997 (16)
5 stages Tour d'Italie
3 stages  Tour de Romandie
2 stages  Tour Méditerranéen
2 stages  Tour d'Aragon
2 stages  Tour de France
1 stage Tour de Valence
Firenze
1998 (16)
Grand Prix de la Côte Etrusque
4 stages Tour d'Italie
4 stages Tour de Catalogne
2 stages  Tour de France
1 stage Tour Méditerranéen
Firenze
Ichtegem
Steenwijk
Mille Metri del Corso
1999 (19)
Trophée Luis Puig
4 stages Tour d'Italie
4 stages Tour de France
2 stages  Challenge de Majorque
2 stages  Tour de Catalogne
1 stage Tirreno-Adriatico
1 stage Tour de Romandie
Bologne
Klagenfurt
Zwolle
Hannovre
2000 (9)
Grand Prix de la Côte Etrusque
2 stages  Tour de Romandie
1 stage Tour Méditerranéen
1 stage Tour de Valence
1 stage Tour d'Italie
Graz
Wien
Campi Bisencio
2001 (12)
Tour de Syracuse
4 stages Tour d'Italie
2 stages  Tour d'Aragon
1 stage Tour du Trentin
1 stage Tour de Romandie
Bavikhove
Lariano
Campi Bicenzio
2002 (14)
Championnat du Monde
Milan-San Remo
Gand-Wevelgem
6  stages Tour d'Italie
3 stages  Tour d'Espagne
1 stage Tour Méditerranéen
1 stage Tirreno-Adriatico
2003 (4)
2 stages  Tour d'Italie
2 stages  Tirreno-Adriatico

 
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