Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) lost three sprints to Tom Boonen in the Tour of Qatar but showed he is almost back to his best by winning the GP Etruschi race in Tuscany on Saturday for the third consecutive year.

Petacchi?s Milram lead out train struggled on the fast run-in and head wind, forcing Petacchi to jump after Steven De Jongh (Quick Step) who started the sprint, and then unleash his own sprint in the final two hundred metres of the race.

De Jongh tangled with Gabriele Balducci (Acqua & Sapone) and crashed but Petacchi avoided the chaos to win his first race since last April. Balducci was second and Daniele Bennati (Lampre) was third. World champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) wore his rainbow jersey with pride on his home roads but sat up in the final kilometres to avoid the crashes.

?I?m very happy to have won. I needed this and the team needed it. I was unhappy after losing three sprints in Qatar but I?m definitely feeling stronger,? Petacchi said after standing in the winner?s podium with friend and cycling fan Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian opera singer.

?It was a difficult sprint because my train was all over the place because of the fast run-in to the finish. There was a crash in the final corner with two kilometres to go and then my lead out train was left too early on the front. De Jongh jumped early and so I had to make a sprint to get on his wheel and sprint again to win.?

?It wasn?t a clean sprint because I had to interrupt my usual acceleration but the important thing was to win.?

Petacchi was tired after the 193km race but was happy to have won after almost a year. His next race as he gets ready for Milan-San Remo is the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal between February 21-25.

European racing continues in Majorca and the south of France on Sunday with the first race of the Challenge Majorca series and the final stage of the Etoile des Bessege race.