Italian Alessandro Petacchi rolled back the years for the second time on the Tour de France here Wednesday to claim his second stage win from a bunch sprint.
Lampre rider Petacchi has not competed on the race since 2004, a year after claiming a hat-trick of sprint victories.
But he showed that absence simply makes the heart grow fonder as he outsprinted a bunch of younger rivals, including misfiring Isle of Man sprinter Mark Cavendish, with yet another late manoeuvre late on the race's home straight.
Swiss Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara retained the race leader's yellow jersey after the 153km stage from Cambrai, during which the peloton caught a small breakaway only four kilometres from the finish.
That left the way open for the sprinters' teams to get organised, and although Cavendish's HTC-Columbia team were leading in the final few hundred metres Petacchi surprised them all with a swift move to the left. He took a few men with him, including Australia's Robbie McEwen and New Zealander Julian Dean, and held on unchallenged to the finish.
Cancellara was well protected by his teammates
Petacchi then hit back at claims by some media that, in what had been a fallow season, he is over the hill at 36 years old.
"I'm not like a little old man, as some have said. This win is really important for me and for the team," said Petacchi, who played down claims he only won Sunday's opening stage because a crash took out many rivals.
"I've come here to win stages and I've shown twice that I'm not here to make up the numbers. In the over 200 sprints I've done I've learned a thing or two. But today I have to say thanks to my team, they really anticipated things despite the fact they don't have a lot of experience trying to set up sprints."
Dean was given carte blanche to go for the sprint because Garmin-Transitions' main sprinter, Tyler Farrar, is trying to recover from a wrist fracture.
And the Kiwi, who also picked up injuries in the many crashes which marred stage two, did justice to that decision by finishing second ahead of Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen.
"I didn't feel super but I've been around a long time, I know how to follow wheels and get myself in the right position and that's what I did - and ended up with second place," said Dean.
"It was alright considering I only came out of hospital two days ago."
Boasson Hagen, who is making his race debut, was even happier with third place on the podium.
"It was a very good job from the team to get me in the right position. It was good to get third - I'm really happy," said Boasson Hagen, who won the final stage on the Dauphine Criterium last month.
Multiple stage winner McEwen won the stage to Reims the last time the Tour visited in 2002 but had to settle for fourth place.
"I was on the wheel of Petacchi all the way. I tried to come off him, but got next to him - that was it," said the Aussie. "Went backwards and I even lost a few places on the line."
'Manx Express' Cavendish, the winner of six stages last year and the self-styled fastest man on the planet, has yet to win a stage on the race.
The Manxman's frustration at his 12th place, and with few sprint stages remaining, was taken out on his bike, which he threw to the ground at his team bus.
In showing that he is far from past it, Petacchi was also kind enough not to pour more fuel to the fire.
"I don't think he's got things to learn from me, or anybody else," added the Italian.
"He won six stages last year, so he knows perfectly how to sprint. But that's sprinting. I've won twice here, but that doesn't mean I'm faster than him, or he's faster than me.
"Each sprint is different."
© AFP 2010
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