Alessandro Petacchi produced a sparkling sprint to grab his second victory of the 2010 Tour on Wednesday in the 153,5-km fourth stage to Reims, the home of champagne.
At the start of the Tour in Rotterdam, sprinter Mark Cavendish was expected to outshine the rest of the field but it is the Italian who has emerged as the strongest finisher in the race so far.
“To win two stages on the Tour de France means a lot, especially at this time in my career,” said Petacchi, also victor of the first stage in Brussels.
“I had nothing to lose so I launched the sprint from far. I stayed close to Cavendish, I marked [Robbie] McEwen and that was it,” Petacchi added.
“My experience of more than 200 sprints made the difference,” he said.
Swiss Fabian Cancellara retained his overall lead at the end of a quiet ride in the sun after two incident-packed days marred by crashes.
The day was also quieter for seven-times champion Lance Armstrong until after the finish when he was booed by a spectator at his team bus and driven away in a car.
“We couldn’t have a third [chaotic stage] in a row, it’s good for everybody,” the American told reporters.
While Cavendish, set up for the final showdown by teammate Mark Renshaw, was unable to move up a gear when the action started, the other stage honours went to New Zealand’s Julian Dean and Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Petacchi’s form allowed him to strengthen his position as the most successful active rider on 156 wins, including six Tour stages.
His last laurels on the Tour dated back to 2003 when he won four stages.
While there were bubbles for Petacchi, there was more struggle for Cavendish.
“It’s not so much we who lost it but the others who improved,” said Renshaw.
German Erik Zabel, Team Columbia’s adviser for sprints, said the absence of Australian Adam Hansen, forced out of the Tour with a broken collarbone, was a major factor.
“Adam is an engine and the team picked him up for this speciality in doing the lead out in the last six to three kilometres,” he said.
“The team did a great job. The only thing we missed today was Cav’s sprint legs from last year.”
The Briton, who was the first to hit the canvas in the Brussels stage, has a third chance in Thursday’s 187.5-km fifth stage between Epernay and Montargis.
But it could also be third time lucky for Petacchi. — Reuters