By Gregor Brown
Il Grillo, Paolo Bettini, has claimed the prestigious end-of-year Oscar Gazzetta. Italy's leading sport's paper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, honored the 32 year-old Italian for his year long achievements, including winning the World Championships and the Giro di Lombardia.
The Italian newspaper collected 37 votes from ProTour team representatives, Grand Tour organizers and former cycling legends and Bettini was the clear winner (107 points); in front of Alejandro Valverde (48), Ivan Basso (25), Tom Boonen (21) and Erik Zabel (10).
"He is in the front row," said former DS of the Italian national squad, Alfredo Martini, to La Gazzetta dello Sport about Bettini's caliber as a racer. "And don't forget that he still has two or three years ahead of him. ... He is able to win Flanders, try in Roubaix, and it would not be out of the question for him to take Paris-Tours. There does not exist a bad parcours for him."
"The last rider like him was [Claudio] Chiappucci," said Felice Gimondi of Bettini's attacking style and seven major one-day wins. Francesco Moser, on par with Bettini in major one day wins at 11 is amazed with Bettini's build and talents. "There are very few like him, with this physical structure, that have won the big classics," he explained. "He looks like a climber but he can can sprint, so he can win regardless. He seems a bit like [Giuseppe] Saronni, even if Beppe has one the Giro. He still misses a classic on the pavé; this will be hard for him, but he still has two years. He will be able to pass me and the others [in terms of major one-day wins - ed.]."
One of Bettini's old teammates, Michele Bartoli, also had kind words. "I'm happy if I have contributed a little to his growth," he said, referencing back to the days when the two rode on MG-Technogym and Asics. "He never gives in for the win, like at the Worlds against Zabel. What does he miss? Nothing. A Flanders [win] would really not change much to his overall dimension. Maybe a Tour [de France], like [Bernard] Hinault and the greats of the past. But either way, Paolo is a legend."
Past winners of the 3rd Oscar Gazzetta (or 10th Premio Coppi-Bici d'Oro): Jan Ullrich (1997), Marco Pantani (1998), Lance Armstrong (1999, 2000), Gilberto Simoni (2001) Mario Cipollini (2002), Paolo Bettini (2003), Damiano Cunego (2004) and Tom Boonen (2005).
The greats in the major one day races
By winning the World Championships and Giro DI Lombardia this year, Paolo Bettini's list of major one-day wins is up to 11 (including the Olympic win); an accomplishment that rivals any other active rider (the closest being Erik Zabel at eight Classics). Bettini's biggest wins? the 2000 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 2001 Züri Metzgete, 2002 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 2003 Milano-Sanremo, HEW-Cyclassics, and Clásica San Sebastián, 2004 Olympic Champion, 2005 Züri Metzgete and Giro DI Lombardia and 2006 World Championship and Giro DI Lombardia.
In Italy, IL Grillo is tied for most one-day wins with Fausto Coppi and Francesco Moser. In the world, he is in sixth behind Eddy Merckx, who earned an amazing 31 major one-day wins, Rik Van Looy (18 wins), Roger De Vlaeminck (14), Jan Raas (14) and Johan Museeuw (12). There are four others with 11 wins: Rik Van Steenbergen, Coppi, Moser and Sean Kelly.
Basso snubbed in the voting
Ivan Basso, winner of the 2006 Giro d'Italia, finished in third in the 2006 Oscar Gazzetta. The Italian would have probably won the award if he was not stopped for the latter half of the 2006 season by his team due to his alleged links to Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
Of the 20 ProTour team representatives who voted in the Oscar Gazzetta only one cast a vote for Basso; Herminio Díaz Zabala of Astana. Zabala selected Basso first, then Spaniards Valverde and Samuel Sánchez. Basso's former boss, Bjarne Riis of CSC, did not cast a vote in favour of the Italian, nor did Basso's current team manager, Johann Bruyneel of Discovery Channel.
The grand tour organizers voted accordingly: Giro d'Italia (Angelo Zomegnan): 1. Carlos Sastre, 2. Bettini, 3. Basso; Tour de France (Christian Prudhomme): 1. Bettini, 2. Valverde, 3. Boonen; Vuelta a España (Victor Cordero): 1. Bettini, 2. Valverde, 3. Alexander Vinokourov.
17 former cycling legends were polled for the award, and only one out of the six non-Italians voted for Basso. Eddy Merckx voted for Bettini, Basso and Boonen, respectively. One of these 17 judges voted for Floyd Landis, who tested positive for testosterone in this year's Tour de France. Italian Ercole Baldini, winner of the 1958 World Championships and Giro, voted for Basso, Landis and Bettini, respectively.
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