What's Cool In Road Cycling

Worlds06: Bettini’s Breathless Finish!

‘Il Grillo’ himself, Paolo Bettini, has completed his set of one-day honours with a brilliant victory at the Worlds in Salzburg. After a couple of attacks to get away, Bettini was in the right place at the right time, profiting from Spain’s attempt to set up Alejandro Valverde.

As Samuel Sanchez accelerated for Valverde at 500 metres to go, a gap suddenly appeared and the Spanish duo found Bettini and Erik Zabel in their slipstream. We’d seen plenty of the ‘Cricket’ all day, but Zabel had been completely anonymous throughout the race.

As Sanchez faded, Zabel burst forward and looked like he was going to crown his career with the rainbow stripes. The German was wrestling the bike, pounding the pedals, but Bettini timed his finishing burst to perfection, slipping past in the last 30 metres.

It was total exhilaration for the Italians who somehow stuck to the game plan and rewarded themselves with the World title. Bettini was beside himself with delight, and the way his team-mates embraced him suggested that they were just as thrilled.

It had been a frenetic last lap which really caught fire. Bettini had been on the attack and was away with Sylvain Chavanel and David Loosli as they took the bell with 22kms to go.

Chavanel pulled them through, hands draped over the bars. Austria were giving their fans something to cheer as Georg Totschnig dragged the main field along behind them. The whole field was together at 20kms to go.

Then Guido Trenti, Sylvan Calzati and Alex Efimkin jumped away. The Italians marshalled themselves to pull them back, with a phalanx of Spaniards sitting behind.

Alessandro Ballan was his typical, super-strong self today, and he did his job well.

Alessandro Ballan was the next member of the Azzuri to do his work, forcing the pace on the Renneberg – suddenly there were big gaps and chaos was spreading.

We then had a blistering ascent of the Tiefenbach with Arvesen (Norway) and Britain’s David Millar riding really strongly. Over the top, Bettini went with Kroon (Holland) and Schumacher (Germany) looking at each other to close things down.

Kroon and fellow Dutchman Michael Boogerd, Vuelta champ Vinokourov (Kazakhstan), Germany’s Fabian Wegmann and Millar chased Bettini who was flogging himself.

Paolo Bettini was incredibly active over the final hour – first trying to get away on innumerable occasions, and then slotting himself into the winning ‘break’ which was away for all of about 1 minute.

After a hurtling descent they caught the ‘Cricket’, and it looked like Bettini had burnt all his matches. He tagged on, though, and the six were clear of the field by a handful of seconds.

It was all back together soon, about 40 riders, with Mick Rogers pulling for the Aussies.

Italy and Holland had a number of riders still to the fore. Suddenly, Rebellin pulled out a big gap, frantically pursued by Schumacher and the Dutch.

The climbs didn’t get rid of many of bike racing’s best, but they did cause more than a few grimaces.

It looked like Italy were trying to draw the sting out of Boonen by launching man after man at speed. Vino got across to Rebellin with Cancellara (Switzerland) and homeboy Haselbacher.

It all came definitively together under the red kite, with Spain trying to lead Valverde through under the motorway flyover. Bettini, though, had been the bookmakers’ favorite and did the business in the finishing sprint to grab the gold.

The Belgian Team came to the Worlds with high hopes of a repeat Boonen win, or a breakthrough for Gilbert, but in the end, it was all Italia.

Bettini said: “We had a plan with Ballerini to go ‘all for one’. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done. I managed to beat a legend like Erik Zabel, a true professional cyclist, who deserved to win and I’m privileged to win against him.”

“It’s like 2002 in Zolder … all the team deserved the win today. It’s been a difficult period for cycling but I hope Zabel and I can give a good message to the world.”

He’s won 8 classics, 3 world cups and the Olympics, now he has the rainbow bands to complete the set.

The podium getters all looked pretty happy. Zabel and Valverde even lifted the Italian up after the national anthem had finished.

There was, of course, an early break. It contained 12 men – Tossato and Nocentini (Italy), Roche (Ireland), Voeckler (France), Ardila (Colombia), Schreck (Germany), de Groot (Holland), van Goolen (Belgium), Perez (Spain), Farrar (USA), Kychinski (Belarus) and Petrov (Bulgaria).

The climbs weren’t terribly difficult, but later on in the race, the pace began to look more and more like an all-out sprint.

They got out to 15 minutes clear, but with Austria and Switzerland, who both missed the move, chasing, they were pulled back to 8 minutes at the halfway point.

Aside from the medallists, big shout outs go to Luciano Pagliarini (Brazil) who opted for a little McEwen-style wheelie-pulling on the way up the Tiefenbach climb.

Also, to the Slovenian fans for their fantastic support and road-painting efforts. And to the Kurt-Asle Arvesen Fan Club who travelled en-masse to Salzburg. Their boy did a good ride and was active throughout.

And we mustn’t forget Franco Ballerini. He doesn’t get much credit, but he’s now delivered 2 rainbow jerseys in 4 seasons for the most fractious squad in world cycling. Bravo Franco, and bravo Paolo.

Elite Mens’ World Road Race Championships Salzburg, 266kms
1. Paolo Bettini (Italy) 6hr 15min 36sec
2. Erik Zabel (Germany) same time
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) s.t.
4. Samuel Sanchez (Spain) at 02secs
5. Robbie McEwen (Australia) s.t.
6. Stuart O’Grady (Australia) s.t.
7. Uros Murn (Slovenia) s.t.
8. Alexandre Botcharov (Russia) s.t.
9. Tom Boonen (Belgium) s.t.
10. Vladimir Gusev (Russia) s.t.
11. Bernhard Eisel (Austria) s.t.
12. Nicki Sorensen (Denmark) s.t.
13. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway) s.t.
14. Martin Elmiger (Switzerland) s.t.
15. Fred Rodriguez (USA) s.t.
16. Karsten Kroon (Netherlands) s.t.
17. Marcus Ljungqvist(Sweden) s.t.
18. Rene Haselbacher (Austria) s.t.
19. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hungary) s.t.
20. Gerben Lowik (Netherlands) s.t.

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