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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 23:18 GMT 00:18 UK
O'Grady hails Petacchi
By Matt Majendie

Alessandro Petacchi
Petacchi had been in record-breaking form before the Tour
Stuart O'Grady believes sprint rival Alessandro Petacchi is fast becoming the greatest sprinter of all time despite a lacklustre Tour to date.

Petacchi has failed to feature in the sprints at this year's race, regularly losing out to the likes of O'Grady.

But O'Grady told BBC Sport: "He's really gone out and proved he's the man to beat this season.

"He's among the all-time greats. And if he goes on like this, he could be the greatest of all time."

Petacchi has been in sensational form in the last year.

In the 2003 Tour, he won four stages before retiring from the race. Then in September, he picked up five stage wins in the Vuelta d'Espana.

His most impressive outing, however, was the Giro d'Italia in May, where he clinched a staggering world-record nine wins.

And O'Grady, who won Thursday's fifth stage, added: "There may not have been that many great sprinters in the Giro, but nine stage wins in any race is hugely impressive.

"He's raised the bar to a different level. He's even better than Mario Cipollini when he was at his peak.

"He's clearly beatable - we've seen that in this race already - but it can be hard to do. It's certainly an experience racing against him.

"And as for people saying he's out of form, that's nonsense. He'll be on the winner's podium before the end of this race."





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