Editorial by Tom Demerly.
New sprint sensation
Alessandro Petacchi quit the 2003 Tour de France on
Saturday. He gave up on the first climb of the seventh
stage between Lyon and Morzine, in the French Alps.
Three days ago I wrote an editorial about what an incredible
man he was, a God to his lieutenants and a new hero
of bike racing. I made a point of learning how to spell
Now I spell it differently:
Petacchi is an absolute disgrace. He is the very antithesis
of the heroic efforts of Lance Armstrong. For them to
be considered a member of the same species as sportsmen
now is inappropriate. I can't tell you how disappointed
and disgusted I am. I hate quitters. Hate them. Sometimes
there are reasons to quit and walk away. Based on what
I have seen and heard about Petacchi's withdrawal he
was not justified.
I know, I should not judge. I did not feel the pain
in his legs. I do not know what is in his heart. Maybe
some other information will surface that justifies his
withdrawal- there could be such a thing.
But at this stage it looks
like Petacchi is just a garden-variety quitter. We have all
been quitters before. I hate that version of me.
The reason I am so disappointed is I feel like
a fraud has been committed. When Petacchi won his third stage
he was resplendent. A commanding acceleration. Amazing bike
handling. A flamboyant victory salute. When he crossed the line
he flashed three fingers to the commentary booth signifying
his three victories. Did you notice he was not breathing hard?
There was no perspiration on his handsome face. He cut a dashing
figure of confidence and strength. It was an alluring fantasy.
But a fantasy it was. He is fallible. Frail in fact. I am saddened
by this news. I wanted to believe in this hero. When Petacchi
showed such flair and panache I bought into that. But now he
let me down.
I had so much respect and admiration for him.
I envied him. What a man. A hero. An example. We should all
be so self-assured. I love a flamboyant character. For those
few days Petacchi was that man. But it was an illusion.
As I write this we are listening to the BBC satellite
broadcast of today's first mountain stage. Richard Virenque
has just won.
Virenque is a hero.
Virenque has been both the darling and the bane
of French cycling. He has won the King of the Mountains jersey.
He has been implicated in drug scandals.
But he didn't quit. He is still in the fight.
Still in the game. And chances are he will be in Paris on his
bike a few weeks from now. That I respect. He's not a quitter.
Shame on you Petacchi, for selling me on this
dream then taking it away. I know you would have suffered in
the mountains. I would have felt for you and admired you even
more. Had you battled to the line and been eliminated on time
I would have honored you. You would have fought the good fight.
There is something to be said for going down with your boots
on. But for Petacchi, leaving in the back seat of the team car
with a cool drink and a comfortable bed at night. That isn't
what the Tour de France is about.
Somebody needs to have a talk with Alessandro.
Somebody needs to tell him that all those stage wins in the
Giro and the Tour is impressive. But with them comes responsibility.
People everywhere buy into this. Now, what message has he sent?
That it's OK to quit? I don't believe that.
This is the 100th anniversary of a sacred sporting
event: The Tour de France. There is the legacy of the men who
have suffered so heavily before to honor. The gifts these men
have given us are enormous. Images of heroism and selflessness.
Images of hope and renewal. Images of sadness and despair that
we can all relate to. Those images have given me inspiration
on many rides. Do you remember when Bernard Hinault fell and
smashed his face in the 1985 Tour de France on the climb to
Luz Ardiden? He did not surrender. His nose was broken, his
face streaked in blood, his jaw set in anger and determination.
Those are the images of the Tour that need to be honored in
its 100th year.
That image of Petacchi flashing three fingers
in the air after winning his third stage was so powerful. It
is the 100th Tour de France and he seemed like such a worthy
Prince. Now it seems like he may be a disgrace. I hope new information
surfaces about Petacchi- that he was sick or injured or heartbroken
and couldn't continue. I hope that.
Because now it is just a disappointment.