The Spoke Word: Tour de France Stage 4 report

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For the first time in this Tour de France, we can say thatthere were no surprises today. Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi of Lampreclaimed his second win of the Tour, winning out of a bunch sprint against theworld’s fastest finishers and showing that his win in the crash-marred Stage 1was no fluke.

There were no changes to the overall standings as all of the maincontenders, including Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, and LanceArmstrong, finished safely in the bunch, with the same time as Petacchi.

Stage4, a flat, 95-mile run from Cambrai to Reims, was always going to be a day forthe sprinters. But with virtually the entire peloton licking its collectivewounds after four days of massive crashes and cobblestone mayhem, Wednesday’srace was about as formulaic as it gets. A break of five riders went almostimmediately after the start as the peloton settled in behind, with thesprinter’s teams keeping the gap to the break manageably small.

And that wasbasically the race for the next 90 miles, as the breakaway riders weren’tcaught until about two miles to go in the stage. At that point, as expected,the teams of sprint stars Petacchi (Lampre), Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), andgreen-jersey-wearer Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team) went to the front to tryto set things up for the fast men.

Cavendish, who won six stages in last year’sTour but has had a very rough season in 2010, looked to be in the bestposition. But as the sprint heated up in the closing stretch, he faded quicklyand soon gave up even contesting the sprint as Petacchi shot around on his leftto take the stage.

A few years ago, Petacchi, nicknamed “AleJet,” was thesport’s preeminent sprinter. In 2003 he won four stages of the Tour de Franceto go along with six stage wins in the Giro d’Italia and five in the Vuelta aEspaña. The following year he won a record nine stages in the Giro.

This is hisfirst Tour de France since 2004, however, for a variety of reasons that includea doping non-negative for asthma medication in 2007. Petacchi had a medicalclearance to use the medication, but a drug test returned levels slightly abovewhat was allowed. Though cycling authorities ruled that the infraction wasaccidental, Petacchi had to sit out much of the 2007 season and was fired byhis team.

After two seasons on a minor Italian continental team, Petacchireturned to the top ranks this season with the ProTour team Lampre and isshowing that, at age 36, he still has the legs to compete.

—John Bradley



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