Cycling: Sprint king Petacchi edges out Pollack in tight opening stage

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The Independent Online

Italy's new sprint king, Alessandro Petacchi, beat the main group yesterday to take the opening stage of the Giro d'Italia cycling race.

Petacchi, of the Fassa Bortolo team, edged German Olaf Pollack at the finish, who snatched the race leader's pink jersey from Australia's Bradley McGee. Pollack capitalised on time bonuses awarded to the top stage finishers to make up for a 10-second gap suffered in Saturday's time test in Genoa, which was won by the Australian against-the-clock specialist.

Pollack, a former world team pursuit champion from the Gerolsteiner team, leads McGee by two seconds and Petacchi by 20 going into today's stage from Novi Ligure to Pontremoli.

"I got great support from my team-mate for the sprint. I'm overjoyed to wear the pink jersey, which I hope to keep for at least one day," Pollack said.

Sunday's win added to six successful sprints achieved by Petacchi in last year's Giro. It also improved the season record of the 30-year-old Italian to eight wins. Petacchi, who is considered by many to be the heir to Italy's top sprinter Mario Cipollini, rushed to victory in the last 100 yards as the Australian Robbie McEwen faded and finished fourth. Cipollini was a distant 14th.

Petacchi complained that McEwen almost knocked him down during the sprint but race stewards did not take any action. Petacchi completed the 143 kilometer (88.6 mile) distance from Genoa to Alba in 3 hours, 41 minutes, 56 seconds. Italy's Crescenzo D'Amore was third ahead of McEwen, Marco Zanotti and Belgium's Philippe Gilbert.

On Saturday, McGee, the winner of last year's Tour de France prologue, won the prologue time trial in eight minutes, 30 seconds for the twisting 6.9km course in the centre of Genoa, at an average speed of over 47km per hour. Pollack was second in 8:40 and Ukraine's Yaroslav Popovych third in 8:50.

McGee recently attacked those who believe most professional riders take drugs to win major races and on Saturday said he had proved it was possible to win clean.

"I think my win is a clear sign that you can win races and even do it in spectacular fashion," he said. "To the people who say taking doping out of the sport will make it boring, I just say look what I did today."