Team Columbia's sprinter Mark Cavendish may have had the glory on the opening stage this year's Giro d'Italia by taking the team time trial, but in the past two days of sprint finishes, it has not been the Manx-man taking the wins, but rather the Giro d'Italia's veteran sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (LPR-Brakes).
The 35-year-old Italian has been one of the Giro d'Italia's most successful sprinters in recent years. His back-to-back wins in Stages Two and Three have boosted his total stage victory tally in the Giro to an amazing 26, a staggering nine of which came in 2004 alone.
While still very highly regarded in the peloton, how has the "Ale-Jet" Petacchi managed to beat Cavendish, who is widely regarded as the best sprinter in the peloton?
On Stage Two, he beat Cavendish head-to-head, something almost no one has done this year, save for Tyler Farrar (Garmin) in March's Tirreno-Adriatico. Petacchi used the wisdom and experience gained over the course of his successful career by reading the situation perfectly and catching the "Manx Express" off guard.
Petacchi won the second stage by opening his sprint early with 300 meters to go, knowing that Cavendish is usually better suited to shorter sprints, and Cavendish, who was riding right behind Petacchi's wheel, could not get around. Team Katusha's Ben Swift rounded out the Stage Two podium.
Cavendish kept the overall leader's Maglia Rosa for another day, and Petacchi took over the Maglia Ciclamino for the sprint points competition.
Stage Three was another flat stage with a few smaller climbs towards the end, nothing to decimate the field, but they made the run-in to the finish a bit more tricky.
Unfortunately for Cavendish, he was forced out of contention for the stage win when a crash 10 kilometers from the finish line forced him to stop, although he did not crash himself, and he could no rejoin the front group.
That left the other sprinters to duke it out for the stage win. Alessandro Petacchi used his experience yet again to rack up his second stage win of the year, beating Tyler Farrar (Garmin) and Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre) to the line.
Cavendish's mishap caused him to drop out of the leader's pink jersey, handing that distinction over to Petacchi, who also strengthened his lead in the sprint points competition.
In an arrangement unusual for a grand tour, the riders hit the mountains tomorrow, including a mountaintop finish in the town of San Martino. The sprinters will not be featured, but expect those who want to contest the GC to man the front on the way to the line, if not start a raging battle so early in the Giro.
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