Chicchi wins again in Argentina. Is he back?

Chicchi in Argentina.

A late January query: Is sprinter Francesco Chicchi finally ready to fulfill his vast potential?

The season has barely begun but already Chicchi has two straight wins down in Argentina at the Tour de San Luis. That is exactly two more than his entire 2011 campaign — he’d practically forgotten how to spray the champagne.

The Italian with the blazing turn of speed has never quite put things together. He was supposed to be the next Cipo but results were few and far between for the 2002 Under 21 World Road Race Champion.

Eventually the stories hit the press that Chicchi was lazy, wasn’t much on training and couldn’t handle the pressure. He bounced from Fassa Bartolo to Quick Step to Liquigas and nobody seemed to be able to light a bonfire under him.

Everybody said he’s a fun guy, a friendly guy, but maybe he just could’t make it to the top level despite a blistering acceleration matched only by Mark Cavendish — who he beat in the 2010 Tour of California.

Then finally, at age 31, there were signs that perhaps he was re-dedicating himself. He joined his good friend Alessandro Petacchi for some hard training as the Ale-Jet tried to improve his climbing and drop additional weight. The assumption was that the extra work would pay off.

It didn’t. He racked up zero wins in the lime green of Liquigas and crawled back to Quick Step. Fans could be forgiven for thinking that Chicchi’s career was now in slow decline.

But lo and behold, today he won stage two in the Tour de San Luis, from Fraga to Juana Koslay. Not only that, he did it in fine style with a lead out that was so fast that his teammate Tom Boonen couldn’t hang on.

“I started the sprint with [Jimmy] Casper and Tom right on my wheel. About 300 meters from the finish line I looked behind me and I didn’t see Tom anymore,” said Chicchi.

Boonen was happy for Chicchi and a win is a win in the Quick Step book. “Winter training and the serene atmosphere in the team are bringing in great results,” said Chicchi. “Let me thank my team once again.”

A victory in Qatar or Oman or San Luis doesn’t guarantee squat in the big races against the big guns. Still, it’s a promising sign for Chicchi. Twisted Spoke gives Chicchi a warm but tentative welcome back.

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