Italian completes hat-trick |

Italian completes hat-trick

Andrew Hood

NEVERS, France – There’s no Mario Cipollini at this year’s Tour de France, but another Italian is filling in just as nice.

Alessandro Petacchi might not have the flash and style as the world champion Cipollini, whose Domina Vacanze team was not invited to the Tour, but he obviously has the legs.

The Italian sprinter surged to his third stage victory in five days and is making everyone forgot his absent compatriot even if Italian journalists won’t let him.

“I think I’m a different kind of sprinter than Mario,” Petacchi, who won easily against Jaan Kirsipuu of Ag2r, said Thursday. “I’d like to stop talking about Mario Cipollini because he’s not here and I am.”

Cipollini’s exclusion from cycling’s most important race caused a minor furor in May, but that’s not for Petacchi to worry about. In fact, he didn’t even want to come to the Tour. After winning six stages and holding the maglia rosa in the Giro d’Italia, the Italian sprinter thought his season was pretty much a wrap. But Fassa Bortolo team brass convinced him to change his mind.

Now he’s glad they did.

“Came to win’

“I came here with the aim of winning a stage,” Petacchi said. “I feel more tired mentally than physically, but I am very happy to have won the three sprints I’ve been in, more so because it’s a quality group of riders that are here.” controlled the race coming into a narrow finishing stretch, but nothing could stop Petacchi who jumped early from well back of the bunch and held out for the win.

“I made my move from far back and started to go with about 200 meters to go. It was risky because I’m not a sprinter like (Robbie) McEwen or (Oscar) Freire, who can make the jump then change gears in the final 50 meters if they need to.”

Petacchi’s dominance has kept perennial Tour sprint winners such as Erik Zabel and McEwen fighting for leftovers. The only other sprint went to’s Baden Cooke, who came across third Thursday.

Defending yellow

Temperatures nudged into the 90s for what’s been the hottest stage so far in this year’s Tour. Riders came across the line soaking in sweat after fighting over the rolling stage with a brisk average of more than 29 mph.

U.S. Postal Service started the day in the warm afterglow of Wednesday’s melodramatic win in the team time trial. Victor Hugo Pena enjoyed a full day in the yellow jersey on his 29th birthday while Lance Armstrong finished safely finished 53rd with the same time as Petacchi.

“I can’t imagine a better birthday present,” Pena said after retaining the jersey. “It’s been a very special day.”

Pena became the first Colombian to wear the yellow jersey, but Postal Service had to do little work to defend it.

“It was hotter than normal, a little bit nervous. Guys are getting tired, but we avoided crashes, so we’re getting through it,” said Armstrong’s U.S. Postal teammate Floyd Landis. “That (break) worked out well. We were happy about that. The course was hard, just all day up and down. That was the worst kind. We didn’t have to do anything.”

Tyler tunes

Team CSC’s Tyler Hamilton bravely fought through another stage but admitted racing with a fractured right clavicle is taking its toll. Wednesday’s searing temperatures caused his shoulder to swell, he said, and he was forced to have the protective padding and bandages removed during the middle of the race because they were causing even more pain.

“It really started to swell. I had it all taped up, but the tape didn’t stretch so I had to take it off. It was becoming so painful we decided to take it off,” said Hamilton, who added the pain was bad once again Thursday

Hamilton was scheduled to visit a local hospital for X-rays Thursday evening to see how the collarbone is healing.

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