Cycling: Petacchi avoids latest accident to control sprint finish

Locally-born Nazon captures yellow jersey by dominating intermediate sprints as Austrian suffers in another crash in dash to line
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The Independent Online

When Alessandro Petacchi's mother, Gaudilla, turned the television back on yesterday afternoon, she was presumably delighted to find that her bambino had not only managed to stay upright in the finale of yesterday's leg of this crash-ridden Tour but had also taken a second bunch sprint stage in three days.

Her preference not to watch the reality of 80-kilometre gallops for the line as a live performance is understandable. Stage one's spectacular pile-up, which affected all bar the first 20 in the peloton, has been rated as one of the most serious in the history of the Tour, while on stage three yesterday the bunch came within a whisker of a similar disaster.

Petacchi had his eyes firmly fixed on the finishing line 200 metres further ahead when the Gerolsteiner rider Rene Haselbacher lost control of his bike and somersaulted into the barriers.

The Austrian opened a huge wound in his elbow in the process and crossed the line with huge rips in his shorts and the skin torn off several fingers. He is now unlikely to start today.

No other rider came down, but even Petacchi came close when he stomped on the pedals early on in the final dash for the line as a precautionary measure. "I don't normally try to do my final sprint from so far out," the Fassa Bortolo rider revealed, "but I still had a brief brush with [the former World Champion Romans] Vainsteins en route to the finish."

Petacchi's second success was also far more satisfactory than Monday's win, he insisted, because it was confirmation he was rapidly regaining top condition following a 40-day break from racing after the Tour of Italy.

The heftily-built rider from La Spezia had been dropped late on Monday's stage on a tiny climb outside the French frontier town of Sedan in the Ardennes foothills, and had been convinced, he admitted, that his form "was not good enough to take me through a major Tour like this one". But after yesterday's 167km gallop south past East Anglia-sized maize fields and herds of grazing Charolais cattle from Charleville-Mézières to Saint-Dizier, Petacchi could feel more than reassured that his condition had not been ruined by his tough previous season, particularly given the stage was run off a ferociously high average speed of 48.399kmh.

Nor had Petacchi exactly been cowering at the back of the bunch in the Giro. The 26-year-old snaffled a total of six stage wins in Italy, with his father Lucio - presumably to avoid the ban on watching cycling on telly in the Petacchi household - following his son for the entire 3,500km race in a battered camper van.

Another sprinter who felt his presence in the Tour wholly vindicated by stage three was the Frenchman Jean-Patrick Nazon.

After falling out with the team manager, Marc Madiot, last year when he was excluded from the squad's 2002 Tour de France line-up at the last minute, Nazon leapfrogged into the yellow jersey yesterday after taking 14 seconds' worth of intermediate sprint time bonuses. He said: "I knew that I had a chance of getting the jersey so I made sure I was near the front for the sprints. It was difficult because it was hot and we started fast."

Jobless until late October, Nazon was picked up for a pittance by the French squad Jean Delatour. Now Nazon may well be chuckling on the quiet that his lead came at the expense of the Australian Bradley McGee, who rides for his old team.

Not only is Nazon the first pro from the host nation to lead in the centenary Tour, coming from the eastern French town of Epinal he has the added prestige of being a coureur regionale, or locally-born rider. He argued afterwards that his lead also "proved that I'm not as stupid as some people think I am". Nazon's yellow jersey also goes some way to answering Lance Armstrong's ferocious attack on Jean Delatour during the Dauphiné Libéré race. The Texan called the squad "a bunch of amateurs" after their leader, Patrice Halgand, had broken one of cycling's unwritten rules and charged up the road when the American had crashed. "We're just doing our work as best we can," Nazon blasted in his post-race press conference.

Jobs were also uppermost in the minds of a 20-strong group of actors and actresses who staged cycling's equivalent of a pitch invasion some 80 kilometres from the finish, briefly blocking the course. Their action, in support of claims for payment between plays, was instrumental in calling down the curtain on a lone break by the Frenchman Antony Geslin. There was some poetic justice in that as Geslin had himself attacked, in rank defiance of another of cycling's gentleman's agreements, as most of the peloton were picking up their feed bags from team assistants on the roadside.

The nonconformist Frenchman, who rides for the breakfast food company Brioches la Boulangère, was finally gobbled up by the peloton less than 15 kilometres from the finish. Then once Geslin's lone drama had been terminated, Petacchi showed himself to be more than capable of handing the day's final denouement.

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling Weekly


Stage 6 (Charleville-Mézières to Saint-Dizier, 167.5km, 104.68 miles): 1 A Petacchi (It) Fassa Bortolo 3hr 27min 39sec; 2 R Vainsteins (Lat) Vini Caldirola; 3 O Freire (Sp) Rabobank; 4 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom; 5 R McEwen (Aus) Lotto; 6 L Paolini (It) Quick Step; 7 O Pollack (Ger) Gerolsteiner; 8 A Furlan (It) Alessio; 9 S Commesso (It) Saeco; 10 S O'Grady (Aus) Crédit Agricole; 11 T Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole; 12 R Hunter (SA) Rabobank; 13 B McGee (Aus); 14 J-P Nazon (Fr) Jean Delatour; 15 J Pineau (Fr) Brioches, all same time. Selected: 21 B Cooke (Aus); 22 J Kirsipuu (Est) AG2R; 43 T Hamilton (US) CSC; 62 I Mayo (Sp) Euskaltel-Euskadi; 69 L Armstrong (US) US Postal Service; 148 D Millar (GB) Cofidis, all s/t.

Overall standings: 1 Nazon 12hr 25min 59sec; 2 McGee +8sec; 3 Millar +12; 4 Cooke s/t; 5 H Zubeldia (Sp) Euskaltel +14; 6 J Ullrich (Ger) Bianchi s/t; 7 Kirsipuu +15; 8 McEwen +18; 9 V H Pena (Col) US Postal Service; 10 Hamilton; 11 A Flickinger (Fr) AG2R all s/t; 12 Armstrong +19; 13 J Beloki (Sp) ONCE +21; 14 S Botero (Col) Telekom s/t; 15 Freire +22.Points: 1 McEwen 86; 2 Zabel 74; 3 Petacchi 72; 4 Nazon 72; 5 Cooke 62. Mountains: 1 C Mengin (Fr) 15pts; 2 W Beneteau (Fr) Brioches 10; 3 F Finot (Fr) Delatour 8; 4 L Jegou (Fr) Crédit Agricole 8. Under-25s: 1 Cooke 12hr 26min 11sec; 2 Flickinger +6sec; 3 V Karpets (Rus) +12. Teams: 1 US Postal 37hr 18min 57sec; 2 Bianchi +8sec; 3 +17; 4 Euskaltel +18; 5 AG2R +19; 6 ONCE +19.