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14th Gran Premio Costa degli Etruschi UPDATED
By Fabio
Date: 2/7/2009
14th Gran Premio Costa degli Etruschi UPDATED

Keeping up with (a recent) tradition, the road cycling season in Italy got underway today with the Gran Premio Costa degli Etruschi-Memorial Sauro Bettini, a one-day contest (this year named also after Paolo Bettini's brother, who was victim of a fatal car accident in October 2006, just a few days after The Cricket had clinched the World Title at Salzburg ...) of about 193 kilometres running in the south-west of Tuscany, an area settled by the Etruscan people way before their Roman neighbors came, saw and conquered - and incorporated them.

The opening part of the route (spanning over 93.65 kms)

The 24.3-km "halfway circuit" to be covered twice

The 10.15 kilometre "final circuit", to be covered five times

The bunch sprint the event came down to was part of the "race lore" too ... and so was the winner's name: nobody else but His Winning Majesty Alessandro Petacchi. The undisputed king of the last four editions (albeit he was stripped of last year's victory by the UCI, he DID dominate affairs on the road, and still regards himself as the true winner ...) made a new addition to his legend and once more had the quickest legs in the final rush to the line at Donoratico town, thus taking his victory tally on Etruscan soil up to new heights.

Victory Alessandro Ale-Jet Petacchi!        Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

The only things that changed were AleJet's team (currently LPR-Farnese) as well as the names of his "main victims": Jacopo Guarnieri (Liquigas), a young gun that showed plenty of class at his debut (on Italian soil) in the pro cycling scene - we're definitely going to hear his name many a good times again - and South Africa's veteran Robert Hunter (Barloword) took second and third respectively.

The peloton, in the distance, closes in on Visconti and Grivko
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

The Italian season opener was initially featured by the long breakaway of the ISD duo Giovanni Visconti-Andriy Grivko. The boys coached by Luca Scinto (and co-coached by Mario Cipollini) gave a great display of early season form. Their advantage rose up to a more than decent 06 minutes and 38 seconds, and later the skilled Sicilian, at his Italian debut with the ISD outfit, stayed clear all by himself for some time. But despite his 100-kilometre effort the man wasn't allowed to make it to the line: LPR, Liquigas and Barloworld proved up to their chasing task and Visconti got reeled in about 20 km from the line.

Giovanni Visconti continues his solo effort.    Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

Next on the move was lesser-known Davide Torosantucci of lesser-known team Centri delle Calzature. His bravery got rewarded with some always welcomed TV exposure, to his sponsors delight of course, but not much more than this. AleJet showed that he can rely on a great chasing machine also this year, so that the gruppo got back as one again in the closing lap, and stayed like that all the way to the finish. Elia Rigotto (Serramenti Diquigiovanni) and Barloworld's Thomas Geraint made the news as they fell in the last few miles, but they got back in the saddle. Then came the last thousand metres, which were all about LPR's leadout job.

Petacchi's new lieutenants - Bernucci, Ermeti and Bosisio in particular - delivered, and put their winning machine in the best position to start the sprint, so that the man from La Spezia just had to finish off the job: he stayed in front from beginning the end of the sprint. All 21-year-old Guarnieri from Cremona, Italy, could get was a priviliged view of AleJet's rear wheel, but the boy wasn't too disappointed: it looks the future might well belong to him. Guarnieri's new teammate Ivan Basso wasn't a factor at all today, but perhaps the Giro 2006 winner is already focused on his Tour of California upcoming challenge.

Podium 2009: L to R - Jacopo Guarnieri, Alessandro Petacchi, Robert Hunter
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

14th Gran Premio Costa degli Etruschi-1st Memorial Sauro Bettini
1. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita - Lpr Farnese) - 04h44'34" (40.693 kph)
2. Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita - Liquigas) - s.t.
3. Robert Hunter (RSA - Barloworld) - s.t.
4. Francesco Ginanni (Ita - Diquigiovanni-Androni) - s.t.
5. Marko Kump (Slo - Adria Mobil) - s.t.

Robert Hunter with Paolo Bettini at the start.   Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

6. Luca Paolini (Ita - Acqua&Sapone-Mokambo) - s.t.
7. Marco Frapporti (Ita - CSF-Navigare) - s.t.
8. Oscar Gatto (Ita - ISD) - s.t.
9. Francesco Rivera (Ita - Aeronautica Militare-Amica Chips) - s.t.
10. Krzysztof Szczawinski (Pol - Miche Silver Cross) - s.t.

After-race comments from Alessandro Petacchi: "To win a race for five years running is no easy task. I think today's victory was the hardest one here, because we went really fast, the ISD team made the race harder since the first climb, and there was plenty of wind, I'm used to struggle in such conditions. I had a few problems the past two days, but my legs were feling better today, so I'm satisfied, I think my condition is improving. Now I'm going to race (the Giro della Provincia di) Grosseto and a couple more Italian races. I hope I'll be in good shape at Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo. Everyone's talking about Cavendish, but I respect all sprinters. He's not going to be my only rival at Tirreno. MSR? Without the Manìe ascent the race is not the same as before. But one can't lose a race only because of a short climb, you know. The most important thing will be to stop moves like the one made by Cancellara one year ago".

After-race words from Jacopo Guarnieri, who came close to a winning debut as a pro on Italian soil, after claiming a dozen races last year: "I even hoped for something better than this (!!!!!!!). My legs were okay, and I didn't think Alessandro could be so fast today (!!!!!!!). But I'm still extremely satisfied with my result, I ended up behind a great champion after all. Cavendish? I prefer Bennati and Petacchi to him, because they know how to tackle harder race. The Englishman does less sprints than the others. According to the Liquigas schedule I'll be at Paris-Roubaix and the Three Days of De Panne later in the season. Those are amongst my fav races, and will help me gain more experience. I'm happy about that".

Some comments from Lampre-NGC's Damiano Cunego: "It was a demanding, fast-paced race. But also an excellent test. I got a positive response from my legs".

On with his rainbow-jerseyed teammate Alessandro Ballan: "I struggled a bit early into the ride, but this isn't much of a problem in February. We ran a few risks in the end, also because of the tifosi's "enthusiasm". But overall it was a good day in the saddle".

Last but (maybe) not least, a few words from Ivan Basso: "Things were harder than expected today. It was a tougher-than-usual training. But that's fine with me".

1996 Fabrizio Guidi (Ita)
1997 Biagio Conte (Ita)
1998 Mario Cipollini (Ita)
1999 Endrio Leoni (Ita)
2000 Mario Cipollini (Ita)
2001 Fabio Sacchi (Ita)
2002 Jury Mitlushenko (Ukr)
2003 Jaan Kirsipuu (Est)
2004 Jury Mitlushenko (Ukr)
2005 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita)
2006 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita)
2007 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita)
2008 Gabriele Balducci (Ita) (*)
2009 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita)

(*): Alessandro Petacchi in fact came first across the line, but all of AleJet's early 2008 season results were later erased by the UCI, such that Gabriele Balducci was subsenquently "awarded" the 2008 edition victory. Still, even the race website keeps Petacchi as 2008 winner.

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