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World Championships - CM
Stuttgart, Germany, September 26-30, 2007
Race 6 - September 30: Elite men's road race - 14 laps, 267.4km
Italian Paolo Bettini prevails in Stuttgart
After a week of polemics Bettini claims second rainbow jersey in a row
By Gregor Brown in Stuttgart, with additional reporting by Bjorn Haake
Paolo Bettini of Italy prevailed in Stuttgart, Germany, after a week of polemics that threatened his participation. The 33 year-old from La California formed part of a five-man group with Fränk Schleck (Luxembourg), Cadel Evans (Australia), Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia) and home rider Stefan Schumacher. It stayed clear following the advantage gained over the Birkenkopf at 9.2 kilometres remaining. Bettini passed Kolobnev as he led out the sprint, while Schumacher kept powering for third over Schleck and Evans.
"It was a difficult week. I was accused [of certain things]," said an emotional Bettini at the finish. "This is a present for all the people. It was not an easy victory. Grazie a tutti!"
He complemented his nine-man squadra azzurra, "It was a difficult circuit. You can only win with a great team. We had a team that could make the difference." Bettini became the fifth rider to archive the back-to-back Worlds win. His compatriot Gianni Bugno was last rider to double (1991 and 1992) he achieved his first of two wins in Stuttgart.
Team Italy put the final moves in place when Davide Rebellin attacked towards the top of the Birkenkopf during the penultimate lap. The rider from Veneto was joined by Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia). The Italian/Russian duo kept clear for nearly the 19.1 kilometre circuit. At the end of the 13th circuit, taken at 42.8km/h, they were only holding on to about 20 seconds, but it was enough to give Bettini and Filippo Pozzato a breather for the final artilleries were fired.
Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) launched on the steep Hedwig with 15 kilometres remaining. In one of the final days of his professional career, the Dutchman put in a powerful and timely move that brought out the group of favourites that would go on to fight out for the rainbow jersey. In the move were Paolo Bettini, Pozzato, Rebellin (Italy), Samuel Sánchez (Spain), Cadel Evans (Australia), Kolobnev, Fränk Schleck (Luxembourg), Schumacher, Fabian Wegmann (Germany), Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Björn Leukemans (Belgium), Boogerd, Thomas Dekker (Netherlands), Karsten Kroon (Netherlands) and Martin Elmiger (Switzerland).
Sánchez, in red-hot form after the Vuelta a España, drove the escape down the backside of the Herdweg, putting the pressure on the riders who had their legs shattered from the day's efforts. Over the following three kilometres, Bettini was seen talking with team-mate 'Pippo' Pozzato. The two leaders were plotting how to keep the world title within Italy's boarders.
The first time "Il Grillo Livornese" fired on the Birkenkopf his escape companions realized they were going to try every trick they had to restrain the 2006 Champion. The second shot left only 2006 Amstel Gold winner Schleck and 2007 Amstel winner Schumacher in tow.
The three traded pulls in their bid for freedom while Kolobnev re-found his legs to chase with Evans as company. The Russian/Australian duo joined the three up front, and the escape pushed towards the start of the final 2,800 metres kilometres of the Am Kochenhof.
Evans was the most worried in the group of five due to his lack of a real sprint. The 30 year-old Australian was forced to make his move early, nearing the final kilometre, under a pedestrian bridge. Schumacher reacted first, and brought back the other three riders to set up for the final kilometre. The group, lined down the left, slowly made its way up the gentle climb as the chase of Sánchez was closing.
Five hundred, four hundred, three hundred and finally the right hand corner at two hundred metres remaining to Worlds' gold. Kolobnev led out at 50 metres with Schumacher, Bettini, Schleck and Evans on his wheel. Bettini came up the right side of the 26 year-old Russian with Schumacher on his wheel. Kolobnev held for second while Schumacher took bronze in front of a home crowd.
"We arrive with an advantage," Kolobnev recalled of the final kilometre. "We arrived in the last kilometres, and we know that there were not many metres to play out tactics. Coming out of the last curve I was in the lead, maybe this was not the best situation.
"I knew Paolo would be stronger than me, he was so strong that it was almost impossible to stop him today."
Schumacher, who lives only 20 kilometres outside of Stuttgart, was disappointed to not take the rainbow jersey but happy to make his presence felt at home. "I wanted to become world champion, I did my very best," said the bald-headed rider. "In the last two months after the Tour de France, I did everything for this day.
"It was impossible to beat Paolo [Bettini]. I felt on the last climb that he was stronger than I was. Okay, he was better. At first, in the final two kilo meters I felt good for the sprint, and then I realized my legs were empty. I wanted to get first, but third in my hometown is still a great success."
Schleck, on the left of Schumacher, ended in fourth ahead of Evans. "I did not have anything left for the finish," said Evans who had quietly made his way to the business end as the race progressed. "I am not going to complain about the final result; it is a good promise for the Tour of Lombardia, and then I will go for my holidays."
Evans' holidays will seem even more pleasant given the demanding Vuelta and the finale of the World Championships. He had in mind that he could play a team role for Australian's sprinter. "I thought there would be a group of four or five to fight of the win. We did all we could today for Alby [Allan Davis - ed.]. I was there in the front group to neutralize the others. ... The Vuelta had cooked me. Being up there with Bettini and those guys, I can't complained about that, but in a world championships only the jersey counts, coming fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth does not matter."
Bettini ended his victory firing an imaginary gun into the air. It was an expression or relief, getting back at those who had tried to keep him down in the days approaching his season's objective. "So many people shot at me this week, so I wanted to do the same when I crossed the line. The gun was not fired at someone in particular. If someone felt it, then, they know who they are."
The double World Champion used his beloved sport get revenge, most likely at Stuttgart Administrator for Culture, Education and Sport Doctor Susanne Eisenmann, who had tried to prevent him from racing. "It was directed at those outside of cycling that make statements and know nothing about cycling. They make their statements for economical reasons."
How it unfolded
The Italians lined up on the front, with the defending champion Paolo Bettini, who was able to start despite a court injunction taken out against him. But the judges ruled in favour of the classics specialist, who was one of the heavy favourites for the main event of this 2007 World Championships.
The bunch rolled out at 10:30 local time under sunny skies and the Italians took off their vests immediately after the start. A few kilometres of gentle rolling along, but as expected the underdogs sought the limelight and Robert Kiserlovski of Croatia was the first to go. He was joined by Slovakian Roman Bronis a little while later and the two quickly built a lead of 15 seconds.
The French decided to light up the race and the pace got faster. However, it was American Tyler Farrar who got away and dragged Vladislav Borisov (Russia), Zolt Der (Serbia) and Yukiya Arashiro (Japan) with him. They passed the duo on front, but could not hold very long. Farrar was the last to survive and finished the first lap in 28'12", five seconds ahead of the bunch.
Stéphane Augé (France) and Colombian Marlon Alirio Perez Arango were the next to go, and they made it off the front. Their lead quickly grew past the one-minute mark and when it reached 1'35", the peloton reacted and with two kilometres left in the second lap, the gap was down to 1'20". They finished the second time around slightly slower, in 28'41", with the gap to the peloton having grown again, to 2'08".
The next to head off was Polish rider Marcin Sapa (Poland), who was quickly joined by Dainius Kairelis, but they were only handful of seconds ahead as the duo up front lost 30 seconds of their lead and were ahead by 1'40" with about 47 kilometres done. As the two chasers were caught a few kilometres after their attack, the next rider to launch was Sergey Kolesnikov of Russia. Russia had a strong team and wanted to put someone in the action right away.
Kolesnikov was at one minute as the third lap came to a close, but the Russian was flying and came ever closer to the leaders. He caught them with less than 215 kilometres to go, with the peloton at two and a half minutes. The lap ended up the slowest so far (30'23"), and the peloton took even more time, as they really relaxed and were now 3'26" behind the charging three.
Kolesnikov punctured shortly after the start of the fourth lap, but was quickly back up with the French and the Colombian. He had to later change from the neutral wheel to one from his team and had to chase again, but the lead went up to 4'10" over the bunch. The fourth lap was faster again, in 31'09", at an average speed of 36.789 km/h. The total average after 76.4 kilometres was 38.710 km/h. Not for the bunch, though, which was back at 5'17" at this point.
At the steep climb going into the fifth lap, it was Bettini who provided a little clap on his riders Bertolini and Tonti, and the two attacked. A group of eight formed, including Burghardt, Fisher, Grabovskiy, but the peloton reacted quickly. The acceleration dropped the lead to 3'45", however. The Italians were still active in front and the constant accelerations after 90kms split the peloton, with only 50-60 riders at the front. They quickly put two minutes on the rest of the field.
At the end of the fifth lap, ridden in 31'47", the first peloton was only 38 seconds behind, with the second bunch at 3'25". The break of three was soon swallowed by the 50 riders that went away, and included, among others, Voigt, Knees, Fischer, Hincapie, Gerrans, Bodrogi
The Dutch were chasing in the bunch behind. Ukrainian Ruslan Podgornyy attacked out of the first group and gained several seconds. The difference between the two main groups was 2'40" after about 100 kilometres of racing. The sixth lap was done in 28'56" and left the racers with an overall time just below three hours. This was also true for the first chase group, just about 23 seconds behind, but not for the main bunch, which was three minutes back.
Exactly at the halfway point, after 133.7 kilometres, the lap time was 29'17" for the leader, about a minute ahead of the chasers. Three kilometres later the Ukrainian is swallowed up, as some confusion arose when the two bigger groups were ready to merge. Some dropped out of the front group, some jumped from the second to the first, but there was still a split and 24 riders were ahead. American Bobby Julich and Australian Simon Gerrans were in this group.
The group consisted of Bobby Julich (United States Of America), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway), Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg), Jens Voigt and Marcus Burghardt (Germany), Carlos Barredo Llamazales, Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni and Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spain), Rene Mandri (Estonia), Stijn Devolder, Philippe Gilbert and Johan Van Summeren (Belgium), Matej Stare (Slovenia), Alessandro Ballan, Alessandro Bertolini and Damiano Cunego (Italy), Vladimir Efimkin (Russia), Robert Gesink and Karsten Kroon (Netherlands), Simon Gerrans (Australia), Sandy Casar (France), Christian Pfannberger (Austria), Ruslan Podgornyy (Ukraine) and Luis Felipe Laverde Jimenez (Colombia)
Andriy Grivko (Ukraine) was chasing by himself. It took him a few kilometres but he eventually caught up with the front group. The latter got a little more organised and extended the lead to 1'30". Round eight was run in 29'18", almost identical to the previous split time. The peloton came through 1'45" in arrears, led by Rabobank. Even though the Oranjes had two riders up front, they apparently didn't rate the chances of Karsten Kroon and young Robert Gesink too high and dropped the hammer down for a high-speed chase.
Lap nine passed in 29'47". After four and a half hours of racing the lead was more than two minutes, with 171.9 kilometres covered. American Bobby Julich was active in this phase of the race, as was the Italian squad. Especially Alessandro Bertolini was doing a lot of work on the front. Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego were also in the group.
The tenth lap saw the fastest split yet, with 27'30". The climb up the Herdweg for the eleventh time started to hurt people and Devolder dropped back and later abandoned the race.
With about 66 kilometres to go the front group was finally caught by the peloton, if that was the name it deserved. There really only 60 riders left. Bertolioni was still driving it, with Voigt near the front as well. Bertolini did everything he could for his squadra azzurra.
This lap was faster than any other. At an average speed of 42.158 km/h, the time was 27'11". Three more laps or 57.3 kilometres were still to race. With 50 kilometres Ballan put in a vicious attack. He was joined, then dropped by Ludovic Turpin of France. But at that phase in the race, no one was allowed too much lee-way, and as the come around the next time, with 38.2 kilometres left, it was grupo compatto, as the Italians were very prominent on the front. 27'38" was the time for lap 12.
Going through the start-finish, an attack by Croatian Matija Kvasina brought some action, as Denis Menchov countered. A small group group built, including Aussie Cadel Evans and Davide Rebellin, but the pace was too high, and even though it was strung out everything was pretty much one peloton.
The next to go was Kanstantsin Siutsou, but he also could only stay away a brief moment. When Davide Rebellin attacked, however, things started to break up as the legs got tired. Alexandr Kolobnev joined him, as Robert Gesink was desperately trying to hold on at the end. He was within 20 metres over a little rise, but as the group went down the other side at full speed the young Dutchman couldn't quite get the power out of his legs.
Rebellin and Kolobnev quickly built a ten-second lead and then took advantage of the fact that everyone was looking at each other. The Italians were in a good position finally with 22 kilometres to go the Spaniards were taking control of the front, but the lead was up to 35 seconds. The accelerations had shelled out more people, with the peloton getting smaller by the minute.
The next to last lap was ridden in 26'47", the fastest so far, at 42.737 km/h. The gap was down to 18 seconds as Rebellin and Kolobnev were trying to hang on. But the duo cracked under the pressure of German Champion Fabian Wegmann. His captain Stefan Schumacher was right there, as were Bettini, Gilbert, Evans, Freire and some of the other favourites.
Under the acceleration of Samuel Sanchez the small group of maybe 20 riders exploded again and five riders were able to go off the front. It was Fränk Schleck of Luxembourg, Stefan Schumacher (Germany), Paolo Bettini (Italy), Alexander Kolobnev (Russia) and Cadel Evans (Australia). They were followed by eight chasers, including Wegmann, Elmiger, Sanchez and Boogerd.
The front formation had a bit of trouble figuring out the pace lining as some were less willing to work than others. Bettini was trying to encourage them, but they never did get a good gap. They were barely hanging on to a lead of 15 seconds, which wouldn't give them many tactical options in the final few hundred metres.
Evans was not trying to avoid a sprint, instead waiting for the final metres. Schleck tried to get way, but couldn't do it. The five came down the home straight together and Bettini proved his strength once again. Kolobnev managed to get silver while local favourite Schumacher, who comes from near Stuttgart, got the bronze medal. They held off the chase by just six seconds. The last lap turned out to be the fastest, with a time of 26'30" and an average speed of 43.245 km/h.
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Images by Shane Stokes / Cyclingnews.com
Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net
Images by Cyclingnews.com