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28th Olympic Games - JO
Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004
August 14: Men's Road Race, 224.4km
Bettini unbeatable for Athens Gold
Paulinho surprise Silver; Merckx superb Bronze
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
12 years ago in Barcelona, Italian Fabio Casartelli won the last Olympic Gold Medal for amateur cyclists for Italy and today, perhaps the late gold medalist was smiling down on his countryman Paolo Bettini in Athens as gli Azzurri of Italian team manager Franco Ballerini rode a perfect race today, enabling Bettini to take a decisive victory in the Men's Individual Road Race at the 28th Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. On a day of baking heat and sparse crowds in downtown Athens, Bettini's Men's Road Race win became the first Gold medal for Italy in the 2004 Olympics and the fifth time an Italian has won the Men's Individual Road Race in Olympic history, making a total of 33 Olympic cycling gold medals for Italy.
Franco Ballerini's team strategy today for Italy was to try and use a zone defense to cover all key moves early on in the race and keep Italian team leader Bettini well protected until the last few laps, when the two time World Cup champion could make the winning move, a strategy that gli Azzurri executed perfectly in Athens. Although the conventional wisdom before the Olympic road race this morning was that with small teams, it would be impossible to control the race, Ballerini and his five Azzurri proved today that with a great game plan and a great team, in the end, it was possible to put pre-race favourite Bettini on the top step of the Olympic podium.
As he crossed the finish line in Athens after beating breakaway companion Sergio Paulinho of Portugal in a two-up sprint for the biggest win of his career, Bettini kissed the medals on his neck chain and dedicated his win to his wife Monica and daughter Veronica, then looked into the TV tribune with a big smile for RAI-TV commentators Auro Bulbarelli and Davide Cassani. After handshakes and congratulations from the rest of the Olympic peloton post-race, newly crowned Olympic road champ and two time World Cup champion Paolo Bettini told RAI-TV's Alessandra Di Stefano that, "I haven't won a World Cup race yet this season and last year the World Championships didn't go the way I wanted, but this win today is one for history."
Choked by tears of joy, Bettini paid homage to his superb Italian team, saying, "We didn't make any mistakes today; when that happens, you can see the result. The team was really great...everyone was good today and we worked not only like professionals, but also like a group of friends that have enjoyed being together at the Olympics together the last few days. In the end, that's cycling; it's a personal victory for me but also since Zolder (2002 World Championships won by Mario Cipollini) with the National Team, it's the team that won the race."
The Silver medal in Athens went to little-known Portuguese rider Sergio Paulinho, a 24 year old second year pro with Portuguese squad LA Pecol who is currently national time trial champion and recently won two stages in the Tour of Portugal. Paulinho's great ride today is further evidence of the emergence of Portugal as a cycling nation with the excellent performance of USPS's José Azevedo at the Tour de France and now Paulinho's Olympic performance. Inchoate from the overwhelming feelings of the moment, Paulinho managed to explain that, "This result is so unbelievable, so unexpected. Not in my wildest dreams did I expect to win an Olympic medal here today...but it's an amazing feeling, it's wonderful. It's the best day of my life. I didn't expect it. I'm very happy and I dedicate this medal to my country."
Soloing in for the bronze medal, Belgian Axel Eddy Lucien Merckx captured a welcome Olympic medal for Belgium as his delighted father, commentating for Belgian TV, stood in the tribune with outstretched arms in celebration of perhaps his son's greatest career performance. 32 last week, rangy Axel downplayed any comparison with his father, considered the greatest racing cyclist of all time. "I am Axel, not my father. This year, the Olympics was my main goal and I was very lucky to make the move at the right time. But I never try to compete against my Dad; this is my cycling, this is what I'm doing and to get the Olympic bronze medal today is obviously one of the top moments of my career."
Team USA had a respectable day but team strategy to not have a leader may have been an error, as the Americans had no rider fresh enough in the final to be able to follow Paolo Bettini's winning move. Bobby Julich, who finished 28th today, explained to Cyclingnews post-race that, "When Bettini attacked, everyone's tongue was on their top tubes, suffering. Bettini just rode everyone off his wheel. He was riding at a totally different level today and was definitely the most deserving rider."
Julich knew why Bettini was the pre-race favourite, saying, "I knew Bettini was ready today. He has lost the last couple World Cups by half a wheel and he is riding very strong." But in the end, Julich rode well in the Olympics and was pleased with his ride today. "(The US Team) did not have high expectations; we just hoping someone would have a good day. So I'm happy with my ride in these hot conditions."
Although it was his first race since abandoning the Tour de France with a bad back injury, Tyler Hamilton had a solid race to finish 18th, just ahead of defending Olympic champion Jan Ullrich. "I am still not 100%.. maybe 90 to 95% with my back," he said to Cyclingnews. "Today was my first race since the Tour, so overall I am pretty happy with my ride. But I wish the course had been more selective today since it was not selective enough to break up the field. Myself and the rest of the (USA team) guys were aggressive and made a good effort today."
While the Americans seemed content with their mid-pack performance in the 2004 Olympic Road Race, the Australians were not in the mood to celebrate with some prawns on the barbie at Australia House today. Although he was one of the race favourites, Stuart O'Grady didn't have a great ride in Athens and finished 33rd. "Obviously Bettini caught us by surprise," explained O'Grady. "There was nothing we could do." And Stuey explained further that, "It was definitely the hardest one-day race in my life. The conditions, the heat, the technical course just made it a very, very hard race today."
O'Grady's loyal teammate Matt "Whitey" White rightly slammed the strange decision of the Olympic committee to ride the Olympic road race in the Athens city centre in the hottest part of the day. "It's unbelievable. To start at one o'clock in the middle of the day and go right through to six o'clock," a disappointed White said after the race. "We're in the city on a hard circuit with the glare and lots and lots of heat coming off the road."
But to the winners go the spoils and the last words as well, as Italian CT Ballerini explained after his teams Olympic capolavoro that, "We'll understand a lot better tomorrow what we've accomplished today. It's a huge satisfaction for me to have our Italian team win here in Athens. When you find a team that is able to accomplish exactly what you have in mind and does its job in exactly the right way, I think it's something that's very hard to articulate."
Ballerini couldn't put words to the Italian success in today's Men's Individual Road Race at the 28th Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, but when Paolo Bettini was awarded his Gold medal and the Italian national anthem Inno di Mameli soared above downtown Athens, everyone understood what he meant.
How it unfolded
On a hot Saturday afternoon, 144 riders took the start of the Men's Individual Road Race of the 28th Olympic Games in Athens, Greece as UK rider Jeremy Hunt did not start due to back trouble. At the sign-in, four officious Olympic judges busied themselves by checking the competitors bicycles and helmets for logos and taping over non-compliant logos. Run over 17 laps of a challenging, technical 13.2 km lap, there was a crash after 2km with World Champion Astarloa, Ivan Gutierrez (Spain) and Boogerd (Netherlands) on the right side of the road. Astarloa crashed hard on his back, while Gutierrez hit his right hip and Boogerd smashed his shoulder hard. Astarloa's bad luck this year continued, as the Basque rider had to abandon.
After one lap, everyone was still together with the exception of Astarloa, and the average speed was just over 37km/h. Spain was down to four riders, with one of them hurting. Up front, Germany, France and Spain were riding tempo through the hot city streets of Athens as another crash victim, Colombian Marlon Perez abandoned. Status quo continued with 15 laps to go. Bäckstedt attacked on the marble pave section with 14.5 laps to go after 23km of racing and nobody chased the immense Swede, who immediately gained time. With 14 laps to go and the pace almost at 39 km/h, Maggie quickly gained 0'37 seconds on the non-reactive peloton. Injured Boogerd abandoned at the end of lap two.
Italy and Germany were riding tempo on the front to keep Big Bäckstedt from getting too far afield. With 13 laps to go, Maggie was pounding away off the front 1'30 in front of the still relatively uninterested Olympic peloton. The pace was moderate with the average at that point at 39.6 km/h. With 12 laps to go, Bäckstedt continued to gain time on the peloton. After 66km of racing, the huge Swede who won Paris-Roubaix this year had 3'23 on the Team Germany led peloton. Three kilometres later, Virenque (France) attacked solo to try and bridge across to Bäckstedt and once again, the peloton let a rider depart with no chase. Allez Richard's frenetic pace closed a minute on Maggie in half a lap as the peloton maintained their pace behind. Australian Matty White and Italian Nardello had move up to the front line of the peloton to flank big German tempo machine Michael Rich. Now Hungarian Laszlo Bodrogi had also escaped and was powering across Athens in pursuit of Bäckstedt and Virenque.
With 11 laps and 143 hot, hard city centre kilometres remaining to race, Bäckstedt crossed the finish line at the slow pace of 38.639 km/h, with Virenque at 2'16 and Bodrogi closing on the Frenchman at 2'44, while the peloton, led by 2003 B Nations World Champion Brazilian Murilo Fischer was at 3'50'. Up front, Bäckstedt seem to ease his tempo slightly to allow Virenque and Bodrogi, both Quick.Step teammates, who had joined up to bridge faster.
After a lap and a half chase, Virenque and Bodrogi were still trying to bridge to Bäckstedt and with 10 laps to go, the Swede still had 1'25 on the duo, while the peloton was at 3'30. The Quick.Step teammates were working well together and had cut the Swede's advantage in half. Bäckstedt's pace was a still slow 38.353 km/h, but the heat and unforgiving urban course made the race deceptively hard. At the summit of Lycabettus Hill, the gap had closed to 0'40. Australia had decided to up the pace in the front of the peloton and sent Mick Rogers and Baden Cooke to the front and the gap to the break was only 2'30.
With 9 laps to go, Bäckstedt was still out front and his average had dropped to 38.073 km/h, but Virenque and Bodrogi were just 0'10 behind. Finally, after two and three quarter laps of pursuit, the chasing duo caught Bäckstedt in front of the National Archeological Museum. After almost three hours of racing, the temperature had risen to 35 degrees and the peloton was at 2'49 after 105km. Riders were drinking one bottle per lap due to the killing heat in downtown Athens.
At the halfway point of the Men's Individual Road Race as the lead trio completed the ascent of with 8.5 laps to go, the gap was 1'45. Germany sent Klöden and Voigt with Ullrich in third position to the front to attack as the first hairpins of the climb began and the move by the defending Olympic champion's squad blew the peloton apart, splitting in three sections. Down the long descent, the German move had forced the peloton into one long line, but by the time the peloton passed the Greek Parliament, there had been a major regrouping and the peloton was back together. The Germans had flexed their muscles, but their move was covered by Australians, Italians, Americans and Spain.
With 8 laps to go, the trio was still out front at an average of 38.056 km/h, with the peloton at 1'40 and 106km left to race. Germany had Voigt back on the front riding hard tempo while the rest of the teams were waiting for the next attack. Another attack by Germany with Klöden was covered by Spain, Australia and once again, a German attack had split the peloton again. At the summit of Lycabettus Hill with 7.5 laps to go, the break had a lead of 1'00, with Spain's Gonzalez de Galdeano and Valverde taking over the attack of the Germans on the descent. Once again, the peloton had split in half on the ascent with the backmarkers chasing hard to get back on to the front group.
American Bobby Julich was riding well and had gotten across to the two Spaniards and tried to keep up his move but was covered by Italy's Cristian Moreni, who was also trying to get a serious break going. With 7 laps to go, the average pace was 38.089 km/h and the front trio, 0'25 ahead, had lost over a minute due to the serious racing happening behind on lap 9. Bäckstedt and co. were caught 1km later after 110km of liberty. The withering heat continued to bake the Olympic peloton on Lap 10, and many riders were suffering big time. Klöden surprisingly abandoned, as did Bäckstedt.
Glomser went on the attack at the base of Lycabettus Hill with Vinokourov and Popovych and at the summit of the climb, Vino made a move that was covered quickly. Austrian Totschnig countered with Colombian Laverde and the duo gapped the peloton. Then 7 riders had bridged near the end of Lap 10, including Moreni (Italy), Mizourov (Kazakhstan), Vainsteins (Latvia), Julich (USA), Gilbert (Belgium), Van Heeswijk (Netherlands), Unai Etxebarria (Venezuela) and Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spain).
As Lap 11 began, there were 80km to race and the wind had come up and then temps began to cool down. The peloton led by Poland, Australia and Spain chasing were at 0'25 and USA marking up front with Hincapie, Hamilton and Leipheimer. Ekimov and Merckx had gotten across to the break while Bettini made his move to get across with the other favourites like Ullrich, Vinokourov and Valverde.
Etxebarria was on the attack off the front, but Italian champ Moreni was covering him like tomato sauce on spaghetti, waiting for Bettini to come up. Behind, there was a general regrouping and there were now 50 riders up front as Moreni started to work with Etxebarria, and soon the duo had 0'25. Great tactics by Italy, as now the rest had to chase. Four riders were chasing at 0'15: Elmiger (Switzerland), McEwen (Australia), Power (Ireland) and Cox (South Africa).
As Lap 12 began with 65km to go, the average was up to 38.602 km/h and the four chasers were at 0'20, with the peloton at 0'42 driven by Voigt. The chasers caught the break after 1km and there were six riders in the lead. Etxebarria continued to power the break and by the base of the Lycabettus Hill, the sextet had a 1'05 lead with Moreni playing his cards close to his chest. Behind the break, the Slovakians and Slovenians were leading the chase as climber Cox was on the front. Now Spain and Kazakhstan were on the front, making the chase pace.
With four laps and 52km to go, the break was working well together and the Olympic road race was getting serious. The pressure was now on Spain, Kazakhstan and Germany to pull the break back, with the front sextet leading by 0'34 and the average speed up to 38.651 km/h. Lap 1 crash victim Ivan Gutierrez (Spain) had abandoned at the Spain team box and now Spain only had three riders, one of whom, Gonzalez de Galdeano, was leading the chase.
On the 13th ascent of Lycabettus Hill, the six riders were still away, but the peloton was closing fast just 0'20 behind. Etxebarria decided to try and go it alone but Moreni was right on him and the break was eventually brought back by counterattackers as the pavé section began under Acropolis Hill with 43km to go after almost 40km of liberty. Voeckler, Kirchen, Trampusch, Valjavec, Hamilton, Nardello and Paolini had bridged to the remains of the break.
With three laps and 39km to go, the 12 leaders had gained 0'15 on the peloton, led by Kazakhstan. The pace continued to increase as the race average was now 38.775 km/h. As the countermove was pulled back by Vino's boys, Russian champ Kolobnev attacked and was joined by Kroon and marked by Italian Paolini. This move was pulled back and on the fifteenth time up the climb, Bettini decided to make his first move of the day. The dangerous Italian was followed by Vinokourov, Kolobnev, Valverde, Ullrich, Hincapie, Hamilton, teammate Paolini, Zabel and Freire among others.
With less than 30km to go, twenty riders had gotten a gap off the front when George Hincapie made one of his classic power moves just before the pavé section but the American's move was covered by Arvesen (Norway) and Paolini. Both riders kept going and soon they were joined by and Axel Merckx and Høj (Denmark), while Popovych was trying to get across to the four front riders.
With two laps and just 26km to go, the four fugitives were being chased by Popovych (Ukraine) at 0'12 and the peloton at 0'30. The average speed had now risen to 39.014 km/h and the chase was well organized behind with Kaschekin pounding away on the 30-strong front group. Vino came off his teammate's wheel and jumped across to the break as the next to last ascent of Lycabettus Hill began. The Italians were ever vigilant on the front, with Paolini, Nardello and Pozzato right by team leader Bettini as Spain's Oscar Freire abandoned after a crash.
Bettini made his move on the ascent of Lycabettus Hill, and despite attempts by the other top favourites to go with him, only Sergio Paulinho could get across to the Italian. At the top, Vino, Ullrich, Van Petegem and Merckx were chasing, with Valverde hanging on the back for dear life. Bettini and Paulinho were working perfectly together and with 15km to go, the gap was 0'20 on the desperate chasers, led by Kroon, but the Dutchman was marked by Bettini's teammate Nardello. '
On the final lap of the Olympic Games Men's Individual Road Race in Athens, the front duo was still working well together and as the final tour began with 13.2 km to go, Vino's Kazakhstan teammate Yakovlev and Russia were chasing, 0'26 behind the duo as the average speed increase again to 39.236 km/h. With 12km to go, the gap had increased to 0'30 and as the dynamic duo cruised away, the Italian team simply smothered any attempt at any chase.
On the final ascent of Lycabettus, Bettini upped the pace again and halfway up the steep section, the Italian dropped the Portuguese rider, but the clever young rider just rode his pace and came back to the Italian. Behind, Ullrich made his typical huge gear attack on the summit of Lycabettus Hill but it was too little, too late and too dumb for Der Kaiser, who just managed to drop Valverde from the front group as the front duo were now 0'40 ahead.
Axel Merckx made a smart solo move with 6km to go and got a 0'10 gap before the long final ascent on the pavé under Acropolis. Merckx powered away and continued to gain ground on the peloton and with 1km to go, the long, lean Belgian was well away from the peloton and gaining ground on the front duo, which had begun the dance for their match sprint. With 900m to go and a 0'35 lead on the peloton and Merckx at 0'20, Bettini jumped to test his legs, then moved behind Paulinho. The Portuguese rider made a very strong jump with 250m to go and gapped Bettini, but the Italian wasn't going to let the gold go just like that. His jump put him alongside Paulinho and his inexorable progression gave him the Gold Medal win by several bike lengths.
Bettini's average speed today on the last lap was 39.4 km/h as Paulinho was just 0'01 behind the Italian for second while Merckx finished off his superb move to come in 0'08 behind for the bronze medal, just four seconds ahead of fast closing Erik Zabel who won the group sprint for 4th.
Images by www.epicimages.us
Images by AFP Photo
1 Paolo Bettini (Italy) 5.41.44 (39.4 km/h) 2 Sergio Paulinho (Portugal) 0.01 3 Axel Merckx (Belgium) 0.08 4 Erik Zabel (Germany) 0.12 5 Andrej Hauptman (Slovenia) 6 Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg) 7 Roger Hammond (Great Britain) 8 Frank Hoj (Denmark) 9 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway) 10 Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia) 11 Robbie McEwen (Australia) 12 Markus Zberg (Switzerland) 13 Ciaran Power (Ireland) 14 Marcus Ljungqvist (Sweden) 15 Julian Dean (New Zealand) 16 Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) 17 Max Van Heeswijk (Netherlands) 18 Tyler Hamilton (USA) 19 Jan Ullrich (Germany) 20 Thomas Voeckler (France) 21 Serhiy Honchar (Ukraine) 22 Georg Totschnig (Austria) 23 Kyrylo Pospyeyev (Ukraine) 24 George Hincapie (USA) 25 Bo Hamburger (Denmark) 26 Tadej Valjavec (Slovenia) 27 Nuno Ribeiro (Portugal) 28 Bobby Julich (USA) 29 Martin Elmiger (Switzerland) 30 Gerhard Trampusch (Austria) 31 Santiago Botero Echeverri (Colombia) 32 Michael Barry (Canada) 33 Stuart O'Grady (Australia) 34 Unai Etxebarria (Venezuela) 35 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) 36 Luis Felipe Laverde Jimenez (Colombia) 37 Evgeni Petrov (Russia) 38 Daniele Nardello (Italy) 0.19 39 Luca Paolini (Italy) 40 Peter Van Petegem (Belgium) 41 Erik Dekker (Netherlands) 0.45 42 Romans Vainsteins (Latvia) 1.19 43 Gorazd Stangelj (Slovenia) 1.36 44 Laurent Brochard (France) 2.29 45 Benoit Joachim (Luxembourg) 46 Cristian Moreni (Italy) 47 Alejandro Valverde (Spain) 48 Richard Virenque (France) 49 Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) 50 Uros Murn (Slovenia) 51 Gerrit Glomser (Austria) 3.37 52 Karsten Kroon (Netherlands) 5.29 53 Sergey Yakovlev (Kazakhstan) 7.04 54 Ruslan Ivanov (Moldavia) 8.51 55 Lars Michaelsen (Denmark) 56 Tomasz Brozyna (Poland) 57 Yasutaka Tashiro (Japan) 58 Rene Andrle (Czech Republic) 59 Sergey Lagutin (Uzbekistan) 60 Nicki Soerensen (Denmark) 61 Janek Tombak (Estonia) 62 Murilo Fischer (Brazil) 63 Jan Svorada (Czech Republic) 64 Jens Voigt (Germany) 65 Ondrej Sosenka (Czech Republic) 66 Igor Pugaci (Moldavia) 67 Filippo Pozzato (Italy) 68 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine) 69 Ryan Cox (South Africa) 70 Andrey Kashechkin (Kazakhstan) 71 Martin Riska (Slovakia) 9.44 72 Gustav Erik Larsson (Sweden) 73 Andrey Mizourov (Kazakhstan) 74 Laszlo Bodrogi (Hungary) 15.01 75 Dawid Krupa (Poland) 18.41 DNF Levi Leipheimer (USA) DNF Goncalo Amorim (Portugal) DNF Oscar Freire (Spain) DNF Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Spain) DNF Sylvain Chavanel (France) DNF Michael Rasmussen (Denmark) DNF Charly Wegelius (Great Britain) DNF Thomas Lovkvist (Sweden) DNF Erki Putsep (Estonia) DNF Jeremy Yates (New Zealand) DNF Andris Nauduzs (Latvia) DNF Mark Scanlon (Ireland) DNF Matej Jurco (Slovakia) DNF Viatcheslav Ekimov (Russia) DNF Gordon Fraser (Canada) DNF Christophe Moreau (France) DNF Slawomir Kohut (Poland) DNF Amir Zargari (Iran) DNF Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Spain) DNF Wim Vansevenant (Belgium) DNF Marc Wauters (Belgium) DNF Michael Rogers (Australia) DNF Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) DNF Gregory Rast (Switzerland) DNF Servais Knaven (Netherlands) DNF Victor Hugo Pena Grisales (Colombia) DNF Morten Hegreberg (Norway) DNF Tiaan Kannemeyer (South Africa) DNF Jose Isidro Chacon Diaz (Venezuela) DNF Dimitar Gospodinov (Bulgaria) DNF Evgeny Vakker (Kyrgyzstan ) DNF Andreas Kloden (Germany) DNF Michael Rich (Germany) DNF Jason McCartney (USA) DNF Baden Cooke (Australia) DNF Matt White (Australia) DNF Rubens Bertogliati (Switzerland) DNF Denis Menchov (Russia) DNF Vladimir Duma (Ukraine) DNF Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukraine) DNF Radoslaw Romanik (Poland) DNF Sylwester Szmyd (Poland) DNF Julian Winn (Great Britain) DNF Maxim Iglinskiy (Kazakhstan) DNF Bernhard Eisel (Austria) DNF Candido Barbosa (Portugal) DNF Magnus Backstedt (Sweden) DNF Andrus Aug (Estonia) DNF Thor Hushovd (Norway) DNF Mads Kaggestad (Norway) DNF Heath Blackgrove (New Zealand) DNF Robin Reid (New Zealand) DNF Marcio May (Brazil) DNF Eric Wohlberg (Canada) DNF Alexandre Usov (Belarus) DNF Marcelo Arriagada (Chile) DNF Kam-Po Wong (Hong-Kong) DNF Ivan Stevic (Serbia & Montenegro DNF Michal Hrazdira (Czech Republic) DNF Robert Hunter (South Africa) DNF Shinri Suzuki (Japan) DNF Abbas Saeidi Tanha (Iran) DNF Jaan Kirsipuu (Estonia) DNF Luciano Pagliarini Mendoca (Brazil) DNF Stuart Dangerfield (Great Britain) DNF Vladimir Karpets (Russia) DNF Igor Astarloa (Spain) DNF Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) DNF Marlon Alirio Perez Arango (Colombia)