By Bjorn Haake in Suances with additional reporting from Gregor Brown
Paolo Bettini took his second stage victory in the Vuelta a España with a commanding uphill sprint to the line Suances. But unlike his triumphant victory in Toledo on stage six, this one was tinged with anger as he ended his contract negotiations with his Quick Step team after receiving the news that Stefan Schumacher had been given a contract for 2009.
"The future of Quick Step? Let's talk about the future of Paolo Bettini! The latest declarations made it very clear: I won't be with Quick Step in the next season. This does not please me, because I would have liked to spend another season with Patrick Lefevere and in fact the whole team," said Bettini.
"I understand that it's a question of the budget that Patrick has available," he said although still unhappy about not being signed. "I talked to him for the first time during the Giro d'Italia, and I specifically told him I wanted to ride another year."
The Italian said that he was working with Lefevere to come to an agreement as late as July. "Then we came to the Vuelta and he still hadn't made me an offer. I was expecting a bit more sincerity," Bettini said Thursday evening.
Like his dealings with manager Patrick Lefevere, the atmosphere in 12th stage went from good to bad quickly. The day started out sunny, but conditions changed dramatically, and dark clouds and heavy rain showers pummeled the riders during the race. "It was tough in this weather," said Bettini, who had targeted both stages before even setting foot into Spain.
Bettini was feeling mixed emotions - on one hand angry and on the other, comprehending a difficult situation for the team and the sport. "I understand the general economic problems and the problems in cycling."
Despite not being re-signed, Bettini wasn't concerned about his future. "I am sleeping well at night. Cycling has given a lot to me and I have given a lot to cycling."
In his ten years with Quick Step, Bettini has taken some great wins. Liège-Bastogne-Liège twice, Milano-Sanremo, two Giri di Lombardia, the Clásica de San Sebastián are just some of his bigger wins. He also was Italian road champion on two occasions. An Olympic title in 2004 was followed by back-to-back wins in the World Championships in 2006 and 2007. He will try to defend the title one more time in 2008, when they are held in his native Italy later this month.