Cycling: Petacchi sets pace with third victory in final dash

Italian signals intention to challenge for green jersey while Peña maintains overall advantage after fifth stage
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The Independent Online

Finger-waving gestures in Italian popular culture are generally held to be too subtly Mediterranean - or too plain rude - for translation, but there could be no wondering why the winner of stage five, Alessandro Petacchi, frantically started holding up three fingers at the TV cameras seconds after he had torn across the finishing line.

Petacchi's taking three Tour stages in five days is a feat which only Mario Cipollini - Italy's most famous sprinter and equally famously discarded from the Tour this year because of his fondness for quitting when the Alps heave into view - has managed to beat in recent years, winning four in a row back in 1999.

Rapidly making a place for himself in the record books, Petacchi, a burly individual from the naval port of La Spezia, is no slouch when it comes to reeling off the statistics himself.

After Tuesday's victory at Saint-Dizier, he had pointed out that he had won 14 of the 17 sprints he had taken part in this year - including six stages of the Giro - and yesterday he reprimanded a journalist who asked how he felt after taking three first places out of the Tour's four sprints so far.

"Three out of three," Petacchi responded, "in the fourth I'd been dropped before the finish, so that day's sprint doesn't count." An unusually testy response from the Fassa Bortolo rider, dubbed 'il gentilhuomo velocista' [the gentleman speedster] for his unwillingness to use his elbows in the final metres, something almost considered de rigueur in the usually chaotic 70kmph dash for the line.

At Nevers, Petacchi had no need whatsoever for any such argy-bargy, neatly tearing out of the line of sprinters with 150 metres to go and putting well over a bike-length's distance between himself and his closest rival, the Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu, come the finish.

Having come to the Tour with the objective of winning just one stage, Petacchi's ambitions are rapidly rising, with the Tour's green points jersey, the prize for the most consistent sprinter, now firmly in his sights.

Last won by an Italian back in 1968, such a achievement might not earn him the title of il cavaliere [gentleman] which his arch-rival Cipollini received from the Italian president after taking the 2003 World Championship, but it would certainly enable him to continue to rise upwards through the sprinters ranks.

The Tour's continuing trend of bunch sprints also ensured that Victor Hugo Peña, Lance Armstrong's team-mate who is South America's first ever maillot jaune, will spend at least another day in yellow.

Peña's success has brought the traditional mêlée of reporters around the US Postal team bus at the start to an even higher than usual density of sweating and swearing reporters per square metre, jostling for position among American high school students waving inflatable killer whales, leering Belgian bodyguards and - on occasion - the odd bike rider or two.

Sitting on the bonnet of his Kelme-Costa Blanca team car on the other side of the Postal team bus and being completely ignored by journalists was one of the two other Colombians in the Tour, Ivan Parra.

His team may be about as far removed in economic terms from US Postal as Colombia is from the United States, but Parra, whose brother, Fabio, was the first South American to make it on to the Tour's final podium 15 years ago, is well aware of the significance of just one day in yellow for his country.

"There's already one team in Europe trying to take Colombian cycling back to the great days of the the Eighties, Orbitel, and with the kind of publicity which Victor Hugo is obtaining we should see a lot more," Parra commented. "Every day he spends in yellow is a bonus." However, Postal's official line is they will put a limit on defending Peña's lead tooth and nail. "We can't risk sticking our neck out with the mountains so close," George Hincapie, a Postal domestique, commented.

The Alps will also be where Britain's David Millar, who is lying two minutes down on Armstrong, discovers what his chances of making a go of the general classification really are. "I'll be deciding at Alpe D'Huez [on Sunday]," Millar said. "But I know I'm good for the mountains."

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling Weekly


FIFTH STAGE (196km, Troyes to Nevers): 1 A Petacchi (It) Fassa Bortolo 4hr 9min 47sec; 2 J Kirsipuu (Est) AG2R Prevoyance; 3 B Cooke (Aus); 4 E Zabel (Ger) Team Telekom; 5 R McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo; 6 L Paolini (It) Quick Step-Davitamon; 7 T Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole; 8 S O'Grady (Aus) Crédit Agricole; 9 F Rodriguez (US) Caldirola-So.Di; 10 J-P Nazon (Fr) Jean Delatour; 11 O Pollack (Ger) Gerolsteiner; 12 O Freire (Sp) Rabobank; 13 D Nazon (Fr) Brioches la Boulangère; 14 R Vainsteins (Lat) Caldirola-So.Di; 15 S Hinault (Fr) Crédit Agricole; 16 B McGee (Aus); 17 F Guidi (It) Team Bianchi; 18 Y Krivtsov (Ukr) Jean Delatour; 19 A Botcharov (Rus) AG2R Prevoyance; 20 G Glomser (Aut) Saeco all same time. Selected: 31 S Botero (Col) Team Telekom; 38 A Vinokourov (Kaz); 39 J Ullrich (Ger) Team Bianchi; 49 I Mayo (Sp) Euskaltel; 53 L Armstrong (US) US Postal; 85 J Beloki (Sp) ONCE; 105 T Hamilton (US) CSC; 137 D Millar (GB) Cofidis all s/t.

Overall standings (yellow jersey): 1 V Hugo Pena (Col) US Postal 17hr 54min 31sec; 2 Armstrong +1sec; 3 V Ekimov (Rus) US Postal +5; 4 G Hincapie (US) US Postal s/t; 5 J L Rubiera (Sp) US Postal +23; 6 R Heras (Sp) US Postal +27; 7 P Padrnos (Cz Rep) US Postal s/t; 8 F Landis (US) US Postal +28; 9 Beloki +33; 10 J Jaksche (Ger) ONCE +38. Selected: 12 Ullrich +39; 29 Botero +1min 33sec; 39 Hamilton +1:45; 43 Vinokourov +1:49; 56 Millar +2:00; 117 Mayo +3:35.

King of the Mountains overall (polka-dot jersey): 1 F Finot (Fr) Jean Delatour 18pts; 2 C Mengin (Fr) 15; 3 W Beneteau (Fr) Brioches 10; 4 L Jegou (Fr) Crédit Agricole 8; 5 A Flickinger (Fr) AG2R 5; 6 P Bettini (It) Quick Step 5; 7 L Bodrogi (Hun) Quick Step 4; 8 J Voigt (Ger) Crédit Agricole 3; 9 U Etxebarria (Ven) Euskaltel 3; 10 N Jalabert (Fr) Team CSC 1.

Points overall (green jersey): 1 R McEwen (Aus) Lotto 108pts; 2 Petacchi 107; 3 Zabel 98; 4 Cooke 88; 5 J P Nazon 88; 6 Kirsipuu 84; 7 Hushovd 76; 8 Freire 74; 9 Paolini 71; 10 O'Grady 67.

Leading team standings: 1 US Postal Service 51hr 6min 45sec; 2 ONCE +49sec; 3 Team Bianchi +51; 4 +1min 35sec; 5 Quick Step +1:45;

Leading (under-25) young riders (white jersey): 1 V Karpets (Rus) 17hr 55min 42sec; 2 D Menchov (Rus) iBanesto +8sec; 3 E Petrov (Rus) iBanesto +10; 4 M Rogers (Aus) Quick Step +19; 5 A Flickinger (Fr) AG2R +27.