Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) showed he is back to his best and still king of the high-speed sprints by winning Saturday?s 254km seventh stage of the Giro d?Italia on the Mugello motor racing circuit near Florence.
Petacchi had a perfect lead out from his Milram team mates and then sprinted at seventy kilometres an hour up the finishing straight where motorbikes usually race at 300km an hour.
World champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) tried to pass him in the final metres but did not have the speed, and was edged out for second place by Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole).
Marco Pinotti (T-Mobile) had a quiet first day in the pink jersey, finishing in the same time as Petacchi and retaining the overall race lead. Switzerland?s Hubert Schwab is still second, 3-30 behind, with Danilo Di Luca of Italy third at 4-12.
The stage victory was Petacchi?s 21st win at the Giro d?Italia and the 123rd victory of his 12-year professional career.
?I?ve never won a stage that is 250km long but I?ve shown I?ve still got a great sprint,? he said with pride after pointing to himself immediately after crossing the line.
?It?s a year since I broke my kneecap in a bad crash at the Giro and the worst seems to be over. It was hard to come back at first but now I feel like I?m sprinting like I used to.?
?It was hard today because it was a long stage with a climb near the finish, but I was suffering less than other sprinters. I know I have to lead-out the sprint and then not fade before the finish line if I want to win the big sprints. The finish was on a motor racing circuit and I like sprinting at high speed but the funny thing is I?m actually scared of motorbikes.?
?I want to dedicate this victory to my team mates because they gave me a perfect lead-out and especially to my usual lead-out man Marco Velo, who is at home with several broken bones after a nasty crash. The team has believed in me all season despite my problems and now I?m paying them back and getting better and better.?
Petacchi has now won two stages in the 2007 Giro d?Italia and could use his powerful sprint to win again at the end of Sunday?s 200km eighth stage from Barberino di Mugello to Fiorano Modenese. The stage does a lap of the Ferrari test track in Maranello and then finishes on a two-kilometre long finishing straight.
RESULTS: GIRO D’ITALIA STAGE SEVEN
1. Alessandro Petacchi (Italy), Milram, 254km in 6-14-44
2. Thor Hushovd (NOR), Crédit Agricole, s.t.
3. Paolo Bettini (I), Quick Step s.t.
4. Danilo Napolitano (I), Lampre, s.t.
5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP), Caisse Espagne, s.t.
6. Alexandre Usov (BLR), Ag2r, s.t.
7. Maximiliano Richeze (ARG), Panaria, s.t.
8. Enrico Gasparotto (I), Liquigas, s.t.
9. Assan Bazayev (KAZ), Astana, s.t.
10. Koldo Fernandez (ESP), Euskaltel, s.t.
130. Charles Wegelius (GBr) Liquigas s.t
147. Steve Cummings (GBr) Discovery Channel s.t.
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE SEVEN
1 Marco Pinotti (Ita) T-Mobile 23-44-32
2 Hubert Schwab (Sui) QuickStep at 3-30
3 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas at 4-12
4 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas at 4-38
5 Andrea Noe’ (ita) Liquigas at 4-47
6 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 4-47
7 Luis Felipe Laverde Jimenez (Col) Ceramica Panaria-Navigare at 4-49
8 Andy Schleck (Lux) CSC at 5-05
9 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital at 5-06
10 David Zabriskie (USA) CSC at 5-15
46 Charles Wegelius (GBr) Liquigas at 7-21
109 Steven Cummings (GBr) Discovery Channel at 21-00