TOURS, France - Italian Alessandro Petacchi won the Paris-Tours classic on Sunday, helped by the man who beat him to the line four years ago.
Italian sprint ace Alessandro Petacchi (C) of the Milram team celebrates as he wins the 101st edition of the Pro Tour Paris-Tours classic. [Agencies]
In 2003, the sprint ace and Germany's Erik Zabel, a record three-time winner, were in separate teams and Petacchi lost out.
Now racing together for Italian team Milram, the two joined forces on the last stretch of the 256-km one-day race to make amends. Petacchi's compatriot Francesco Chicchi was second and Spain's Oscar Freire third.
"I wish to thank Erik Zabel who sacrificed his chances for me. It's always great to win a race when you're helped by such a great champion," said Petacchi, whose only previous win in such a classic was in the Milan-San Remo two years ago.
"In a way, I'm glad Erik won in 2003 and that I did today. 2003 was a great lesson because I had attacked from too far," said Petacchi, who has now won 130 mass sprints in his career.
"This time I shortened the sprint. We waited for the last 250 metres and went exactly at the right time," he said.
The victory, his 19th this season, was a bright spot in another troubled year.
Petacchi tested positive for salbutamol in the Giro d'Italia but was cleared by the Italian federation, a decision contested by the Italian Olympic Committee and the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA).
The case will be judged by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in November.
"I have nothing to say about this until the trial but I hope this case will finish soon," he said.
Petacchi also had his 2006 season hampered by a knee injury but he warned he was back to his best: "For the first time since 2006, I'm in my best form. I hope to take advantage of this for the end of the season and the beginning of the next."
The ProTour season ends with the Tour of Lombardy next week.
In recent years, sprinters have been denied a mass finish in Tours and it nearly happened again this year when three strong riders, Belgium's Philippe Gilbert, Italy's Filippo Pozzato and Ducthman Karsten Kroon, broke clear with seven km to go.
But the three were caught in the last km.
Several other breaks took place in the early hours of the race, the only notable one involving three riders, France's David Boucher, Belgium's Serge Pauwels and Italy's Manuel Quinziato, who remained on his own in the last hour but was reined in with nine km to go.