Blazin' Saddles

Will Ale jet back in time for the Tour?

Blazin' Saddles

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The world of cycling was rocked this week when veteran sprint king Alessandro Petacchi called time on an 18-year career almost 12 entire months after his last prestigious victory in the Bayern-Rundfahrt.

Contrary to the beliefs of many cynics, the 39-year-old Italian has not made it his new job to get as far away from Mantua as feasibly possible without the aid of a Lampre-Merida train.

In fact, it appears that the former winner of 48 Grand Tour stages has had a sudden change of heart. Yes, just two days into his self-imposed holiday, Petacchi seems to be flip-flopping back into the sport.

"It's wrong to say I've retired. I haven't closed the door on cycling and don't know what the future will bring," Petacchi told Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.

"I've got nothing to hide, otherwise I would have just kept my trap shut. It just didn't make sense to carry on. I haven't got the right motivation. I felt all right early in the season and only missed out on some results due to making some mistakes. I tried some new things and rode Flanders and Roubaix but then I thought: 'Now what? Ride the Tour? To do what?'"

When pressed on his next move, Petacchi underlined that former sprinting legend Erik Zabel finished his illustrious career with a stint at Milram leading him out in the sprints.

"I could consider doing something like that but not just for anyone. The conditions would have to be right," he said.

Which begs the two questions: who, in Petacchi's eyes, is "not just anyone". And which professional team would actually find a use for a man who bid farewell to his best days along with Fassa Bortolo back in 2005?

Well, many could be tempted. Petacchi's experience in delivering the goods from a fast sprint train could be invaluable for a whole host of teams.

Cannondale, for example, look rather light on numbers – and Peter Sagan would certainly benefit from having the 2010 Tour de France green jersey winner Petacchi as his lead-out man as he targets a second successive maillot vert of his own.

Petacchi, a huge ladies' man back in the day, could also teach the Slovak sensation a thing or two about how to treat women. (Although the problem with having a stud like Ale-Jet as your wingman is that the girls only talk to you as a means of getting closer to him.)

Omega Pharma-Quick Step could well be tempted – especially if Mark Cavendish's so-so start to the season continues into the Giro. Petacchi confirmed before the current season that Cav had approached him about being his lead-out man at the Belgian team – but the Italian veteran instead opted to sign a new contract with Lampre.

With former HTC team-mate Mark Renshaw a more likely target for Omega Pharma going forward, Petacchi could be seen as a quick-fix to ride alongside Cavendish in this year's Tour as the Manxman attempts to take the green jersey back from that man Sagan.

Argos Shimano have an abundance of young sprinting talent, but Petac-Kittel could be a marriage made in heaven (unless you're John Degenkolb, in which case it will mean a mid-summer holiday before a later trip back to Spain).

Team Europcar may even consider a punt – especially if Thomas Voeckler takes time to come back from his collarbone break. Bryan Coquard may be too young to head to the Tour in his debut season as a professional – but pair him alongside a man old enough to be his father and Jean-Rene Bernaudeau could be forced to take a punt.

All in all, it seems that Petacchi's decision to leave Lampre with immediate effect was one made in haste and in the heat of the moment.

"To be honest, I perhaps haven't realised what's happened. I definitely need a break. I don't know what will happen but I hope something will happen."

In short: Petacchi fancied having May off for a change and retiring seemed like the best way to wrangle himself out of his home race.

Although, of course, the rumour merchants will fan the flames and claim that perhaps Petacchi was politely asked by the Giro organisers to make himself scarce for a month, what with the Mantua preliminary hearing scheduled for just four days ahead of the Giro opening stage in Naples.

Who knows – maybe Lampre won't be there at all, with or without Petacchi.

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J-Rod hits top gear at Silverstone

An excited Joaquim Rodriguez has attempted to draw a line under his disappointing Ardennes campaign by ticking a few things off his Bucket List ahead of the Grand Tour phase of the cycling season.

Two new experiences apparently topped the Spaniard's must-do list: practice his time trialling and visit the UK – neither of which he had ever done before.

"The first time ever in my life I'm in England!" Rodriguez tweeted this week. "Unbelievable that everybody I speak with looks like as if they had came out of Top Gear!!"

Given that Rodriguez was working in a wind tunnel at the motor racing circuit in Silverstone, that's probably not too much of a surprise – although, to be fair, the Katusha rider could well have made the same conclusions having attended a UKIP rally.

Skipping the Giro and concentrating on the Tour de France for the first time since 2010, Rodriguez has been trying to improve his aerodynamics as he bids to get in good enough shape to rival the likes of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador come July.

Perhaps he should borrow The Stig's white helmet? It's got to look better than those Blanco aero monstrosities...

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