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World Road Championships - CM
Salzburg, Austria, September 20-24, 2006
Race 6 - September 24: Elite men's road race, 265.8 km
Bettini adds rainbow to gold
Final corner decisive in near-bunch sprint finish
By Hedwig Kröner in Salzburg
An outburst of emotion went through the Italian camp and the ranks of tifosi that had followed their squadra azzurra to the World Championships in Salzburg. In his triumph, Paolo Bettini hit the brakes, stepped off his bike, took it with both hands and nearly threw it into the air: he just outsprinted Erik Zabel for the rainbow jersey, his ultimate goal after winning the Olympic Games. The German, who wanted to congratulate him, couldn't get through the media crowd as it closed in on the new World Champion in a flash. Third-placed Alejandro Valverde contained his disappointment, as the crowd went berserk, chanting 'Paolo, Paolo!'
The elite men's road race wasn't decided in a bunch sprint, nor in a breakaway as many had speculated. The final corner before the finish, a right-left combination tunnel under a railway track, was the crucial point - with 500 metres to go, Xavier Florencio (Spain) hit the brakes as Erik Zabel attacked, creating a gap in the bunch which left Bettini, Valverde, and Zabel off the front. The Spaniard had a lead-out man with him (Samuel Sanchez), but he came off his wheel from too far and couldn't take his speed to the line. Zabel then hit out on the left hand side, but Bettini was able to get past the powerful German with less than 50 metres to go. The bunch came in only two seconds later, led by Australians Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady, but the world title was already history.
"This was the fastest race finale I've ever experienced, and the longest finishing straight, too," said the new world champion after the race, having calmed down enough to speak again. "That last corner was the determining factor, as we four managed to create the gap just there. I dedicate this victory to everyone who trusted my abilities, who believed that I could win - it feels incredible! What can I say?"
The strategy of the Italian team finally paid off. "We knew we had many possibilities with this team," Bettini added. "We always attacked, one of us always jumped during the race. This finally made the selection happen, and in the last five kilometres I just gave it everything. We believed we could win; it was important to believe in it because it was such a difficult race. It's a great satisfaction for the team and the federation."
The winner of the silver medal, German Erik Zabel, shook his head when passing the finish line, but regained his positive spirits a few moments later. After the Italian and the German friends had hugged and congratulated each other, 36 year-old Zabel said, "I'm just really happy with this medal too. I felt great in the finale, I was calm - also because Oscar Freire wasn't here, who liked to snatch the victory off me by a tyre [ironic smile - alluding to Verona 2004, where he won the silver medal before, against Freire, and also in Milan-San Remo in 2004]... Paolo didn't do this quite so closely, so it's okay. These World Championships were a dream to me: the course, the crowd, the weather, everything was beautiful. So I'm satisfied."
On the relative bad luck of his German friend Zabel, Bettini added, "He is such a great friend and bike rider, who deserves a lot of respect. I hope he will come back next year and win a world championship!" In 2007, the World's will be hosted in Stuttgart, Germany.
After finishing in second position twice in the event in Madrid and Hamilton, Spain's Alejandro Valverde was visibly disappointed after the race, taking a bronze medal home. But the man who just also lost the Vuelta a España, a declared goal for him, tried to show no bitterness.
"The team was awesome today; Samuel Sanchez put himself flat out for me and created the selection with 700 metres to go," the 26 year-old said. "He is a great rider; if I made it here today it is thanks to him. But Paolo and Erik were just phenomenal. I'm still happy with my medal." According to Spanish sources, the winner of Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège blamed his 55 chain ring for the defeat. The two other sprinters had apparently used a 53, which enabled them to put their power onto the tarmac without making it too hard.
In the final lap of the 22.2 km-long course, everything pointed to a bunch sprint. Bettini showed that he had great legs as he had tested his rivals on the penultimate lap, getting a gap with German Fabian Wegmann first, and then on the last lap going clear on his own. In the descent, it all came back together, though, with defending champion Tom Boonen in one of the front positions. But the Belgian had unfortunately run out of teammates at that point, so when the Spaniards and Italians made sure that a split occurred in the final curve, Boonen as well as the other remaining sprinters were out of contention.
Fabian Cancellara, who tried to time trial the last kilometres but had to give in to the more agile riders in the end, said, "I gave it my all, as anything is always possible - the double would have been absolutely awesome," he said after the line. "The guys in front weren't so decided anymore for who they were riding, Boonen was there... That it turned out the way it did was a bit strange; I think they must have hit the brakes in the tunnel. I knew I couldn't have sprinted, so I thought maybe a power ride would do it. I don't care about the placing, all I know is that I progressed in the road race and I think I can be confident about the years to come."
German Fabian Wegmann would also have waited to end up further to the front, but he was blocked on the last kilometre after being a protagonist of the last two laps, attacking with the best. "I would have wanted to help Zabel in the finale, but somebody bumped into me from behind in some corner, and ruined my rear wheel. I tried to get back to the front, but the wheel is wrecked, so I didn't make it," he commented.
British rider David Millar did make it to the finale, as planned: "I wanted to try something, so I waited until the last lap to go for it. It didn't work out, but I'm pleased with my ride, still," he said in the finish.
Later at the press conference, somebody asked what targets the Olympic and World Champion Paolo Bettini still had - seeing that he is 'only' 32 years old. "Well, I took everything that I wanted today," he said. "Flanders is missing on my list, but I don't know... maybe I'll try something new, like the track."
How it unfolded
The first attack of the Elite Men's road race came straight off the start by Antonio Ramos Querales (Venezuela). But as the big teams sorted their tactics, the South American was caught again at the foot of the first climb, the Rennerberg. Alex Cano Ardila (Colombia) then took advantage of the second climb on the course, the Gschaiderberg, to get a gap, and Tyler Farrar (USA) soon started in pursuit of him.
Completing the first lap, the American was 35 seconds behind the Colombian, and the peloton at 1'18 behind. A reaction out of the bunch only came as it approached the second climb for the second time, with four riders, including Nicolas Roche (Ireland) hammering off the front.
More chasers joined them, until a proper pursuit group was established with the following riders in it: Nicolas Roche (Ireland), Matteo Tosatto and Rinaldo Nocentini (Italy), Jurgen Van Goolen (Belgium), Bram De Groot (Netherlands), Daniel Andonov Petrov (Bulgaria), Luis Perez Rodriguez (Spain), Stephan Schreck (Germany), Aliaksandr Kychinski (Belarus) and Thomas Voeckler (France).
On the descent, they absorbed Farrar, and were one minute behind Cano as the second lap was over. The bunch took it very easy, 4'15 down. The chasers then caught the Colombian at the top of the second climb, while three riders were trailing in between the lead group and the bunch: Robert Radosz (Poland) and Frantisek Rabon (Czech Republic) at 3'05, as well as Jose Antonio Ramos Querales (Venezuela) on his own at 4'20 - the peloton miles behind already.
All through the fourth lap, the race situation remained the same - except that the gap to the bunch grew bigger an bigger, reaching 13 minutes at the end of the loop, after 88 kilometres of racing. It was only when the gap increased to 15 minutes during the fifth lap that the peloton decided to get it moving again. The Austrians and the Dutch being the most active in the front of the bunch, they reduced the leader's advantage to 11 minutes as they completed lap #5 for them - but the breakaway was already well into the sixth lap at that moment.
The Austrians then drove it with four guys in front, getting a hand by the Swiss, really putting on a tempo. In the breakaway, Colombian Cano Ardila lost contact and came through the start/finish line 4'30 behind his former break mates. Radosz and Rabon from Eastern Europe looked happy as their hopeless hovering between the two groups came to an end at the end of the sixth lap - swallowed by the bunch, which pointed 7'50 behind the leaders as it went into the seventh.
The gap came down more and more - so the Italians decided it was time to launch another one: in the Gschaiderberg, Marzio Bruseghin and Filippo Pozzato got a gap, together with Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine), Marcel Sieberg (Germany), Nick Nuyens (Belgium), Marlon Alirio Perez Arango (Colombia) and Mart Ojavee (Estonia). But the bunch caught them again in the descent, which didn't prevent Bruseghin to continue to put on some pressure by driving the peloton off the front for a bit. Then, five Spaniards took over.
At the end of lap 7, the leading break had only 4'40 left over the bunch. The race completed that lap in 32'56 (40.35 km/h). The overall average was 41.35 km/h at that moment.
Lap #8 saw some yet faster racing happening over the hills, with Italy's Pozzato again powering over the Gschaiderberg in first position of the bunch, about three minutes away from the break, already charging the likes of Boonen and Valverde. The field reached the start/finish line only 2'30 behind the leaders for the beginning of lap #9, as a counter move led by Volodymyr Zagorodniy (Ukraine) and Cyril Dessel (France) tried to get away, but failed.
Luca Paolini (Italy) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Spain) split the bunch over the Gschaiderberg, as the break was only a little more than one minutes away, and slowly disintegrating itself. Swiss Fabian Cancellara also attacked on the descent, and a chase group formed of 14 riders (including Belgian Gilbert, Spaniards Sastre and Sanchez and Italians Pozzato and Di Luca), which caught the front group inside the city.
At the beginning of the tenth lap, this lead group of 25 riders had 40 seconds over the peloton. The full composition of this break: Nicolas Roche (Ireland), Matteo Tosatto, Danilo Di Luca, Filippo Pozzato and Rinaldo Nocentini (Italy), Jurgen Van Goolen, Stijn Devolder and Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Andonov Petrov (Bulgaria), Luis Perez Rodriguez, Samuel Sanchez and Carlos Sastre Candil (Spain), Stephan Schreck (Germany), Thomas Voeckler (France), Aliaksandr Kychinski (Belarus), Bram De Groot (Netherlands), Tyler Farrar (USA), Marcus Ljungqvist (Sweden), Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), Stuart O'Grady (Australia), Nicki Sorensen (Denmark), Andrey Kashechkin (Kazakhstan), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway), Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvia), Vladimir Efimkin (Russian Federation).
Kashechkin drove the leaders into the Gschaiderberg, as the leaders gained some time on the bunch: 55 seconds on top of this climb, even though the Spaniards and Belgians continued to chase. The tenth lap was ridden in 29'51 (44.522 km/h), for an overall average of 41.57 km/h. The bunch came through at 30 seconds.
But the Belgians and Dutch rode a hard tempo, and with 40 kilometres to go, the break was caught, disintegrating. Several unsuccessful attacks followed, until the Gschaiderberg again made the difference, with Paolo Bettini (Italy) and Fabian Wegmann (Germany) getting a gap with 30 km to go. The bunch behind them was reduced to about 80 riders, but the duo was caught again, only to be followed by another duo: Davide Rebellin (Italy) and David Loosli (Switzerland), who had 10 seconds after the descent. Sylvain Chavanel (France) bridged up to them for the finish of the second-to-last lap, with the bunch still following only a few seconds behind.
With 20 km to go, the gap was closed. Another trio formed: Frenchman Sylvain Calzati attacked with Guido Trenti (USA) and Alexander Efimkin (Russian Federation), but this one, too, was doomed. On the first climb, Alessandro Ballan (Italy) set off to do a solid tempo job, and found himself alone. Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) countered, and with him many of the favourites. Once over the top, the remaining bunch was strung out, with Boogerd following Stefan Schumacher (Germany), and Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) also doing a great amount of work.
Bettini got a great lead into the Gschaiderberg from Luca Paolini (Italy), and used it to get a gap over the top of the climb, chased at 5 seconds by Karsten Kroon and Michael Boogerd (Netherlands), Fabian Wegmann (Germany), Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) and David Millar (Great Britain).
But on the descent of the climb, the chasers caught Bettini, and so did the rest of the field of about 40 remaining riders, including Tom Boonen (Belgium). With six kilometres to go, everything seemed to predict a bunch sprint, as the last attacks of Pozzato, Schumacher, Rebellin and Millar were useless.
Then came the famous last corner, and when the pack re-appeared out of the short tunnel there was a gap, with four riders clear: Bettini, Valverde, Sanchez and Zabel, who caught this train in the very last second. That was the end of the race for the rest of the pack, and although Sanchez did a good job of leading out Valverde, it was Bettini who was the best today.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net
Images by Jean-Francois Quenet
Images by Luc Claessen/www.ctm-images.com
Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti
Images by Andrea Hübner/www.velo-photos.com
Images by Sabine and Rolf Jost
Images by Davide Tricarico/www.laborraccia.it
1 Paolo Bettini (Italy) 6.15.36 (42.476 km/h) 2 Erik Zabel (Germany) 3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spain) 4 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spain) 0.02 5 Robbie McEwen (Australia) 6 Stuart O'Grady (Australia) 7 Uros Murn (Slovenia) 8 Alexandre Botcharov (Russian Federation) 9 Tom Boonen (Belgium) 10 Vladimir Gusev (Russian Federation) 11 Bernhard Eisel (Austria) 12 Nicki Sorensen (Denmark) 13 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway) 14 Martin Elmiger (Switzerland) 15 Freddie Rodriguez (United States Of America) 16 Karsten Kroon (Netherlands) 17 Marcus Ljungqvist (Sweden) 18 Rene Haselbacher (Austria) 19 Laszlo Bodrogi (Hungary) 20 Gerben Löwik (Netherlands) 21 Stefan Schumacher (Germany) 22 Steffen Wesemann (Switzerland) 23 Christophe Le Mevel (France) 24 Anthony Geslin (France) 25 Andrey Kashechkin (Kazakhstan) 26 Alexandr Kolobnev (Russian Federation) 27 Matija Kvasina (Croatia) 28 Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) 29 Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) 30 Moises Aldape Chavez (Mexico) 31 Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) 32 Gorazd Stangelj (Slovenia) 33 Nuno Ribeiro (Portugal) 34 Danilo Di Luca (Italy) 35 David Millar (Great Britain) 36 Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spain) 37 Grégory Rast (Switzerland) 38 Luca Paolini (Italy) 39 David George (South Africa) 40 Cadel Evans (Australia) 41 Rui Miguel Sousa Barbosa (Portugal) 42 Sérgio Paulinho (Portugal) 43 Vladimir Karpets (Russian Federation) 44 Alexander Arekeev (Russian Federation) 45 Sylvain Chavanel (France) 46 Tadej Valjavec (Slovenia) 0.15 47 Christopher Horner (United States Of America) 48 Davide Rebellin (Italy) 49 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spain) 50 Michael Rogers (Australia) 51 Filippo Pozzato (Italy) 52 Alexandr Vinokurov (Kazakhstan) 53 Sergey Yakovlev (Kazakhstan) 0.34 54 Fabian Wegmann (Germany) 0.56 55 Marlon Alirio Perez Arango (Colombia) 1.25 56 Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus) 57 Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvia) 1.53 58 Jose Carlos Silva Rodrigues (Portugal) 59 Radoslav Rogina (Croatia) 60 Jan Valach (Slovakia) 61 Alexandre Usau (Belarus) 62 Roger Hammond (Great Britain) 63 Ruslan Pidgornyy (Ukraine) 64 Dainius Kairelis (Lithuania) 65 Georg Totschnig (Austria) 66 Stijn Devolder (Belgium) 67 Max Van Heeswijk (Netherlands) 68 Christian Vandevelde (United States Of America) 69 Aurélien Clerc (Switzerland) 70 Cyril Dessel (France) 71 Sébastien Joly (France) 72 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spain) 73 Michael Albasini (Switzerland) 74 Lars Ytting Bak (Denmark) 75 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine) 76 Nick Nuyens (Belgium) 77 Borut Bozic (Slovenia) 2.02 78 Erki Pütsep (Estonia) 3.33 79 Alexandre Bazhenov (Russian Federation) 3.43 80 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Poland) 81 Daniel Petrov (Bulgaria) 82 Jurgen Van Goolen (Belgium) 6.19 83 Martin Riska (Slovakia) 84 Kjell Carlström (Finland) 85 Matej Mugerli (Slovenia) 86 Nelson Victorino (Portugal) 87 Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic) 88 Alessandro Ballan (Italy) 89 Simon Gerrans (Australia) 90 Vladimir Efimkin (Russian Federation) 91 Bram Tankink (Netherlands) 92 Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) 93 Thomas Voeckler (France) 94 Sylvain Calzati (France) 95 Alexander Efimkin (Russian Federation) 96 Robert Hunter (South Africa) 97 Beat Zberg (Switzerland) 98 Alexei Markov (Russian Federation) 99 Christian Knees (Germany) 100 Mathew Hayman (Australia) 101 Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Colombia) 102 Jonathan Patrick McCarty (United States Of America) 103 Oliver Zaugg (Switzerland) 104 Tomas Buchacek (Czech Republic) 105 David Loosli (Switzerland) 106 Patrik Sinkewitz (Germany) 107 Guido Trenti (United States Of America) 108 Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia) 109 Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spain) 110 Luis Perez Rodriguez (Spain) 111 Volodymyr Zagorodniy (Ukraine) 112 Andriy Grivko (Ukraine) 113 Gabriel Rasch (Norway) 114 Thor Hushovd (Norway) 115 Inigo Cuesta Lopez De Castro (Spain) 6.59 116 Ryan Cox (South Africa) 117 Christian Pfannberger (Austria) 118 Danny Pate (United States Of America) 119 Marzio Bruseghin (Italy) 120 David McCann (Ireland) 8.45 121 Petr Bencik (Czech Republic) 122 Matej Jurco (Slovakia) 123 Tomasz Marczynski (Poland) 124 Fumiyuki Beppu (Japan) 125 Allan Johansen (Denmark) 126 Roman Bronis (Slovakia) 13.38 DNF Félix Rafael Cardenas Ravalo (Colombia) DNF Matteo Tosatto (Italy) DNF Rinaldo Nocentini (Italy) DNF Adrian Bonilla (Costa Rica) DNF Aliaksandr Kychinski (Belarus) DNF Serge Baguet (Belgium) DNF Tarmo Raudsepp (Estonia) DNF Russell Downing (Great Britain) DNF Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio (Mexico) DNF Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spain) DNF Kristof Szczawinski (Poland) DNF Hidenori Nodera (Japan) DNF Philip Deignan (Ireland) DNF Stephan Schreck (Germany) DNF Daniel Andonov Petrov (Bulgaria) DNF Leif Hoste (Belgium) DNF Kevin Hulsmans (Belgium) DNF Matthew White (Australia) DNF Nicolas Roche (Ireland) DNF Nick Gates (Australia) DNF Ronny Scholz (Germany) DNF Marcel Sieberg (Germany) DNF José Rujano Guillen (Venezuela) DNF Tyler Farrar (United States Of America) DNF Ian McLeod (South Africa) DNF Luis Felipe Laverde (Colombia) DNF Christopher Baldwin (United States Of America) DNF Bradley McGee (Australia) DNF Hrvoje Miholjevic (Croatia) DNF Aleksejs Saramotins (Latvia) DNF Shinichi Fukushima (Japan) DNF Luciano André Pagliarini (Brazil) DNF Bram De Groot (Netherlands) DNF Jan Boven (Netherlands) DNF Maarten Tjallingii (Netherlands) DNF Kyrylo Pospyeyev (Ukraine) DNF Mauricio Soler (Colombia) DNF Ryder Hesjedal (Canada) DNF Darren Lill (South Africa) DNF Sébastien Hinault (France) DNF Martin Mares (Czech Republic) DNF Peter Wrolich (Austria) DNF Linus Gerdemann (Germany) DNF Bruno Neves (Portugal) DNF Murilo Fischer (Brazil) DNF Mart Ojavee (Estonia) DNF Stanislav Kozubek (Czech Republic) DNF Marek Rutkiewicz (Poland) DNF Tomasz Kiendys (Poland) DNF Martin Prazdnovsky (Slovakia) DNF Maros Kovac (Slovakia) DNF Volodymyr Starchyk (Ukraine) DNF Gerardo Fernandez (Argentina) DNF Svetoslav Tchanliev (Bulgaria) DNF Manuel Eduardo Medina Marino (Venezuela) DNF Thierry Marichal (Belgium) DNF Jackson Stewart (United States Of America) DNF Pedro Nicacio (Brazil) DNF Tiaan Kannemeyer (South Africa) DNF Samuel Dumoulin (France) DNF Jorge Martin Montenegro (Argentina) DNF Joost Posthuma (Netherlands) DNF Bernhard Kohl (Austria) DNF Frantisek Rabon (Czech Republic) DNF Robert Radosz (Poland) DNF Alex Cano Ardila (Colombia) DNF Marcio May (Brazil) DNF Soelito Gohr (Brazil) DNF Jose Antonio Ramos Querales (Venezuela) DNF Abdul Wahab Sawadogo (Burkina Faso) DNF Rabaki Jeremie Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso) DNF Saïdou Rouamba (Burkina Faso)