Happy birthday Ale Jet

Image courtesy of Lampre-ISD

Image courtesy of Lampre-ISD

Buon compleanno Alessandro!

I’ve had to bake a slightly larger birthday cake than usual to accommodate Alessandro’s 39 candles. I know, it’s hard to believe that the blonde, blue-eyed, softly spoken Ligurian is still racking up the wins as he starts his 18th (and possibly last) season in the professional ranks. Let’s have a wander down memory lane looking at the career highlights of one of the sport’s most successful sprinters.

In the Grand Tours, Alessandro has 27 stage wins (five revoked) in the Giro d’Italia, six in the Tour de France and 20 in the Vuelta a Espana. His total of Grand Tour wins puts him in third place behind the great Eddy Merckx (65) and Mario Cipollini (57). He was the first rider to win at least two stages in each of the three Grand Tours in a single year. He’s also won all three points jerseys and graced the maglia rosa for seven days.

Overall, with 183 wins in the bag he’s fourth on the all-time list of Italian winners just behind Francesco Moser (273), Giuseppe Saronni (193) and Cipollini (189).

Fresh-faced and before he became Ale Jet (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Fresh-faced and before he became Ale Jet (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Alessandro was a keen swimmer and track athlete before turning to cycling in his early teens. He started winning in his rookie year and racked up the victories until he turned professional in 1996 with Scrigno-Blue. He recorded his maiden win at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi followed, amazingly, by the King of the Mountains jersey in the same race in 1999!

Wins came thick and fast two years later while wearing the famous navy-and-white of Fassa Bortolo. He won his first Grand Tour stages at the Vuelta in 2000. In 2003 he romped to victory in stages in all three of the Grand Tours, while 2004 was his most prolific year with nine wins at the Giro and four at the Vuelta. It cemented his reputation as the peloton’s leading sprinter as he and his train dominated the sprint finishes of nearly every race he entered. In 2005 he realised a long-held dream, when having trained to shed weight over the winter months, he won Milan-San Remo.

The following season, after the collapse of Fassa Bortolo, Alessandro moved to Milram with another prolific sprint winner, Erik Zabel. Alessandro was runner-up in Milan-San Remo but his year then took a turn for the worse when he was forced to abandon the Giro after fracturing his knee-cap. Having missed the Tour, he was almost back to form at the Vuelta when he took out his frustration out on the team bus after being boxed in on stage 15. The bus won and Alessandro fractured his hand, missing the remainder of the Vuelta and the world championships in Salzburg. A shamefaced Alessandro admitted afterwards:

I was very angry. After being injured so many months, I had the concrete possibility to finally return to success. I wanted to give my season a sense at all cost, after I had to abandon the Giro d’Italia early because of my accident.

In any case, I admit it was a stupid gesture. I’m sorry and I ask my teammates and the team management to forgive me. But the anger was so intense that I couldn’t control myself. I condemn my gesture very severely, but I am just a man, not a machine, and sometimes men make mistakes. Today I made a mistake, no doubt.

This wasn’t the first or only instance of Alessandro venting his frustration. Back in 2003 he had a bout of fisticuffs during a stage of the Giro with Audris Naudus (CCC-Polsat). The latter was expelled from the race while Alessandro was given a time penalty and docked points by the [partisan] race organisers. In 2011 there was another incident in the final sprint where Alessandro appeared to punch boxer turned cyclist Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) on the first stage of the Tour of Turkey.

In the 2007 Giro, overenthusiastic use of salbutamol, an asthma medication for which he had a therapeutic use exemption certificate, earned him a 12-month ban and the loss of some prestigious victories including ones at the Giro. He returned to the peloton with Pro Continental team LPR Brakes with a fifth consecutive win in GP Costa Degli Etruschi and victories in the Giro and Tour of Britain which earned him a berth at Lampre in 2010. He repaid their faith with a podium in Milan-San Remo and a stage in the Tour de Suisse before winning the green jersey at the Tour, becoming only the second Italian rider to achieve this feat since Franco Bitossi in 1968.

In 2011, well-served and well-led by wingman Danilo Hondo, Alessandro proved he still had what it takes when he beat Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) on stage two in the Giro.

2012 was not such a great year for Alessandro with his only victories coming in the Tours of Bavaria and Norway. He’d forsaken the Giro to concentrate on the Tour where, having fallen heavily on the Croix de la Fer, he finished outside the time limit.

He’s set to leave behind his poor 2012 season and hopefully retire on a high:

2013 is going to be a very important season for me. I would like to prove myself that I can still be a player and I think I can. I believe I can give great satisfaction to the team.

Expect Alessandro to start his 2013 campaign at the early Italian races in February where, although he’s lost the services of Grega Bole and Hondo, he will be able to impart experience and knowledge to Lampre’s recent hires of Roberto Ferrari from Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela and veteran Maximiliano Richeze from Team Nippo.

I’m going to leave you with a little photo-montage put together by one of Ale Jet’s many fans.

Now Alessandro, can you manage to blow out all those candles in one go or do you need some help?

What’s happening in January?

Welcome to a new year, which means that a new cycling season is just around the corner. 2013 is, of course, the year of the 100th Tour de France, but there is a whole lot more to grab our attention over the coming ten months. As ever, January is more of a limbering-up than a full-blooded racing month, but there’s still plenty of action to look forward to around the world, both on the road and here on VeloVoices. Here’s a summary of what to expect this month.

Tour Down Under (22nd-27th)

Tour Down Under logoThe 2013 UCI WorldTour kicks off, as has become customary, with this congenial, sprinter-friendly leg-stretcher of a race. It provides the peloton with the chance to shake off the ring-rust in the temperate climate of an Adelaide summer.

We’re unlikely to see any of the serious Grand Tour contenders here – and certainly not in anywhere near hors catégorie shape – but we can expect to see a combination of sprinters and Aussie riders looking to claim early season glory. Last year Lotto-Belisol’s Andre Greipel (the overall winner in 2008 and 2011) won three stages but it was Simon Gerrans who claimed overall victory for GreenEDGE on their WorldTour debut to make it three ‘home’ winners in five years.

This year’s parcours again features a penultimate day summit finish on Old Willunga Hill which will almost certainly decide the overall, but in among the obvious sprint stages there are lumpy finishes on stages two and three which could promote a successful breakaway or a Classics-style selection to weed out those sprinters who resolutely prefer it flat.

As ever, we’ll have a comprehensive preview closer to the race, but if you can’t wait you can find out more on the official website here.

Other races this month

Looking beyond the WorldTour, notable races this month include:

Tour de San Luis (21st-27th, Argentina): A week-long race taking in some spectacular scenery across central Argentina. Last year’s race was dominated by Omega Pharma-Quick Step, with Francesco Chicchi (two) and Tom Boonen winning three of the four flat stages and Levi Leipheimer winning the individual time trial to lay the foundations for overall victory, despite a certain Alberto Contador triumphing on the two summit finishes.

GP Cycliste La Marseillaise (27th, France): A relatively short (around 150km) one-day race finishing in Marseille. Cofidis’ Samuel Dumoulin (now with AG2R) won last year’s race, emerging triumphant from a small group sprint.

Etoile de Bessèges (30th-3rd February, France): Typically a mix of sprint, climbing and time-trialling, this five-day stage race is the first real European test for riders with ambitions in the major one and three-week races to come. Saur-Sojasun’s Jerome Coppel claimed overall victory last year by virtue of dominating the concluding individual time trial.

This month’s birthdays

A selection of some of the more notable birthdays in the peloton this month:

Image courtesy of Lampre-ISD

Image courtesy of Lampre-ISD

3rd: Alessandro Petacchi, Lampre-ISD (39 years old). The veteran sprinter is very much in the twilight of his career now, with just four victories – three at Bayern Rundfahrt and none in WorldTour events – to his name in 2012. During his long career he has won 48 Grand Tour sprint stages and also the points classification at all three Grand Tours.

7th: John Degenkolb, Argos-Shimano (24). A double-stage winner at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné, 2012 was a breakthrough season for the young German sprinter, culminating with five stage wins at the Vuelta and fourth in the World Championships road race. He also had a good spring Classics season, finishing fourth at Paris-Tours, fifth at Milan-San Remo and sixth at E3 Harelbeke, and overall victory at the Tour de Picardie helped propel him to become the top rider in the UCI Europe Tour standings.

11th: Cameron Meyer, Orica-GreenEDGE (25). The 2011 Tour Down Under winner added his sixth senior gold at the World Track Championships in the points race in 2012, as well as finishing tenth overall at Tirreno-Adriatico and 11th at the Tour of California.

12th: David Zabriskie, Garmin-Sharp (34). The time trial specialist has had many of his best results stripped away as a result of his role in the US Postal doping programme, for which he is also suspended until 1st March. He had previously ‘won’ six Grand Tour stages and held the yellow jersey at the 2005 Tour for three days. In 2012 he won individual time trials at the Tour de Langkawi and the Tour of California, finishing second overall at the latter.

18th: Thor Hushovd, BMC (35). A winner of 14 individual Grand Tour stages and the 2010 World Champion in the road race, Hushovd endured an injury-shortened 2012 season in which he was winless for the first time in his career and achieved just one top-five finish. He will be hoping to bounce back in 2013, although his opportunities to compete for wins alongside reigning world champion Philippe Gilbert at BMC may be limited.

26th: Peter Sagan, Cannondale (23). 2011 was a stellar year for the ‘Fast-vak’ – most notably three stages at the Vuelta, two stages and the overall at the Tour of Poland, two stages and the points classification at the Tour de Suisse and the overall at the Giro di Sardegna – but 2012 was even more spectacular. Three stages and the green jersey at the Tour were probably the highlight, but he also won five stages at the Tour of California, four at the Tour de Suisse and managed a second (Gent-Wevelgem), third (Amstel Gold), fourth (Milan-San Remo) and fifth (Tour of Flanders) during the spring Classics season. A Classics victory will be a key objective this year – he has already said he is targeting Milan-San Remo – and autumn might just see him in rainbow colours too on a course in Florence which looks likely to suit him.

30th: Richie Porte, Sky (28). The Tasmanian thrived in the first half of the 2012 season, winning the overall at the Volta ao Algarve and finishing fourth and ninth respectively at the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné before being a key lieutenant in the mountains as Bradley Wiggins rode into yellow at the Tour. He is still probably best known, however, for the three days he spent in the maglia rosa as overall leader of the 2012 Giro, where he won the young rider classification.

Also on the blog

We’ll be kicking the blog back into high gear ready for the start of the season, which means reader favourite Tweets of the Week will be back in its usual slot every Tuesday. Our weekly Friday Feature will also return to bring you interviews, photo features and expert analysis.

Each member of the VeloVoices staff is selecting three riders and one team to profile and follow throughout the year. Keep an eye open for our selections and initial overviews towards the middle of the month.

Finally, look out for our start-of-season round-table, where we will look forward to what we can expect from our favourite riders, teams and races in 2013. Plus much, much more on both our Facebook page and Twitter.

Whether serious or light-hearted, VeloVoices is the place to come for all the latest cycling news and views! Pro cycling for fans, by fans.