Petacchi silences critics

Alessandro Petacchi was once reputed to be the best sprinter in the world only in races under 250km.

Alessandro Petacchi was once reputed to be the best sprinter in the world only in races under 250km.
Alessandro Petacchi's poker-faced press conference may have given Italy perhaps its best reason yet to lament the impending retirement of Mario Cipollini in San Remo tonight - but the Fassa Bortolo rider is proving a more than worthy heir to the Lion King on the road. Petacchi said that he will celebrate this evening with a slap-up meal in a friend's restaurant a few hundred miles down the coast in Tuscany. It's an ironic choice given that - by Petacchi's own admission - the Italian's efforts to curb his appetite this winter proved the difference between victory and defeat in la Classicissima. Erik Dekker revealed tonight how, at the second feed zone, 220km into the race, he glimpsed a Fassa Bortolo rider bearing an uncanny resemblance to today's winner. "I said to a team-mate: 'Hey, doesn't he look like Petacchi.' My team-mate turned round and said: 'You fool, that is Petacchi!' I didn't recognise him because he has lost so much weight." Petacchi, who weighs around three kilos less than in last year's race, later explained: "It was a personal choice to lose the weight. This victory was born of out of last year's defeat, because I realised that I had spent too much energy on the Cipressa and Poggio because of the extra weight I was carrying. The progress I have made on the climbs was there for all to see." Petacchi's speed over the Cipressa and Poggio was indeed hugely impressive. "He was completely impassive, effortless on the Cipressa," observed 2003 champion Paolo Bettini. The impression was borne out by the peloton's split time on the Cipressa - a new record of nine minutes 30 seconds. Petacchi was perhaps even more delighted to have confounded those who have doubted his staying power in races over 250km. "Frankly, I was sick of the press and my fellow riders criticising my supposed inability to win long races," said the 31-year-old from La Spezia. "I think I disproved that myth today by winning by a margin of two or three bike-lengths. Today's win is the fruit of a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifices. I have won one of the monuments of the sport, but I won't suddenly start trying to be something that I am not. I can win races like this and Paris-Tours but I'll never climb well enough to win say, the Tour of Lombardy." Petacchi added that he consult with Fassa Bortolo manager Giancarlo Ferretti before deciding whether or not to defend his ProTour leader's jersey at the Tour of Flanders on April 3. As of tonight, Petacchi leads cycling answer to the Champions League with 93 points against Oscar Freire's 78. Petacchi went on to recount a sprint in which Freire and another pre-race favourite, Tom Boonen, saw their path blocked at the crucial moment. "Bettini pulled off to the left earlier than I expected. If he'd had better legs, I'm sure Paolo would have kept going a little longer. I only really had Fabio Sacchi to lead me out; my other team-mates had tired themselves out driving at the front earlier in the race. As soon as I got out of the saddle and started hammering the pedals I could see that I was pulling away. With 150 metres to go I sensed that I had it in the bag, but there was a nagging fear that what happened last year might repeat itself. "The hardest thing was going to the start this morning," Petacchi concluded. "I think I dreamed of the hairpins on the Cipressa and Poggio last night. All I could think about at the start were those climbs and the Via Roma. You can't avoid being nervous because it's a race where you can't afford to make mistakes. Fortunately, today, everything went right."
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