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Petacchi downbeat after UCI refuses Omega Pharma transfer

NAPLES, Italy (VN) — Alessandro Petacchi will watch his first of many races on TV when the Giro d’Italia kicks off in Naples on Saturday. After retiring last week with 22 career stage wins in the race, Petacchi’s rumored hiring as a leadout rider for Mark Cavendish is a non-starter.

Cycling’s world governing body, the UCI, officially denied Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s attempt to hire “Alejet” on Tuesday morning and nixed his plans to return from a brief retirement with Patrick Lefevere’s team.

“Yeah, at first it’s going to be [difficult to watch the Giro d’Italia] even if the Tour de France was originally on my schedule,” Petacchi told VeloNews today. “We even tried to make plans for the Tour, but the UCI said no.”

“We granted him his wish,” Andrea Appiani, press officer for Petacchi’s former team, Lampre-Merida, told VeloNews. “He wanted to retire and spend time with his family; it wouldn’t be right if he returned with another team.”

Omega Pharma tried to snap up the 39-year-old from La Spezia ahead of the Giro. Its leadout train for Cavendish has suffered early this year, but adding Petacchi may have given the former world champion the extra locomotive he needed.

Petacchi decided to retire April 23 after last racing at Paris-Roubaix. He said he saw no point in continuing, even for the Giro d’Italia.

“I could’ve kept going and collecting my paychecks,” Petacchi said, “but that’s not my style.”

The memories of winning, or seeing others, like Erik Zabel, help him do so, were too much for the Italian. He spoke with Omega Pharma boss Lefevere, who checked on his availability with the UCI.

A rider may only switch teams in the off-season, with the official transfer season opening up August 1. Petacchi, however, is no longer an active rider, and his ability to transfer mid-season was in question.

“It’d be a surprise for that to happen, it’d set a bad precedent,” honorary president of the UCI’s cyclists’ council, Vittorio Adorni, told Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport today.

The UCI agreed. Even if he could technically join Omega Pharma, it would be disrespectful to Lampre and create more problems for the sport in the wake of the Lance Armstrong and Katusha scandals.

“We were in contact,” Omega Pharma spokesperson Alessandro Tegner told VeloNews, “but there’s nothing to do.”

Petacchi must follow UCI rule 2.15.120, even if he is retired. The door likely is shut for the remainder of the 2013 season, including the Tour de France, where he won six stages and the green jersey.

“I kept training up until two days ago, when they [the UCI] told me that it wouldn’t be possible to race the Giro,” Petacchi explained. “Unfortunately, they see this as a transfer, but it isn’t that way. I closed my contract with [Lampre GM] Giuseppe Saronni because I wanted to quit. Then I had contact and I thought that riding for Mark would be a good reason to return.”

Petacchi took the day off from training today, saying it was a holiday. He said he plans to return to training tomorrow and in the coming week visit the UCI personally in Switzerland to revisit the topic.