Alessandro Petacchi, the superstar Italian sprinter who won the points classifications in all three grand tours during his stellar road racing career, is set to make his Absa Cape Epic debut in 2019. He will be partnered by Francesco Chicchi and the pair will be riding for the boutique Italian bike manufacturers: T°RED.
Along with his points classification victories in the 2010 Tour de France, 2004 Giro d’Italia and 2005 Vuelta a España, Petacchi also won 48 grand tour stages. His hunger for grand tour stage wins places him third on the all-time list, equal with Mark Cavendish and behind only his compatriot Mario Cipollini and the great Eddy Merckx. His partner Chicchi enjoyed a successful career as a professional cyclist too. The younger of the two, Chicchi, retired at the end of the 2016 season having raced for a number of top teams, including what is now Deceuninck–Quick-Step, in his 13 year-long professional career.
As one might imagine Petacchi still rides frequently, but the Absa Cape Epic will be an entirely new experience for the rider turned commentator who works for Italian broadcaster RAI. “We are training without the methodology and the stress of when we were in professional cycling. Our goal will be to try to finish the race, because we never competed in a MTB race before and we do not have the technique of others” Petacchi revealed.
After the success of George Hincapie and Cadel Evans in the 2017 Absa Cape Epic’s Dimension Data Masters category mountain biking fans are understandably sceptical of former professional riders claiming to only be aiming to finish the race. Given that Chicchi is 38 years old, the T°RED Factory Racing pairing are ineligible to race in the category for riders between the ages of 40 and 49 in 2019 however. It is therefore unlikely they will be challenging in among the elite riders, but a very respectable overall finish is certainly on the cards none-the-less.
Reflecting on the challenge ahead Petacchi smiled: “The stages are over 100 kilometres long, you take part as a pair and at the end of the day you sleep in a tent. In short, I think it will be a lot of fun.” It could not be more different from racing on the road where Petacchi’s teammates would have worked to place him in the ideal position to sprint for race victory before retiring to a team hotel after each stage.
The Absa Cape Epic will therefore be an exciting new adventure for Petacchi and Chicchi. As it will be for their prospective neighbours in the race village, it is not every day you have one of the most celebrated cyclists in the world camping two feet away from you in the race village.