Bugno respects Bettini's courage

Gianni Bugno was the last rider to win back-to-back World Championships, and the 43 year-old from...

Gianni Bugno was the last rider to win back-to-back World Championships, and the 43 year-old from Monza has nothing but respect for Paolo Bettini, who repeated his feat on Sunday in Stuttgart. The challenge for the 33 year-old returning champion was increased due to polemics with the city of Stuttgart Sporting Council and the International Cycling Union (UCI). Bettini rose to the challenge and defended his title, something that only four riders had done before him.

"I would have done the same gesture that Paolo did when he crossed the line," said Bugno to La Gazzetta dello Sport. The Italian won his first of two titles in Stuttgart, in 1991. Bettini crossed the line with guns firing – figuratively. The rider from La California (Tuscany) fired an imaginary rifle as part of his victory celebrations.

"So many people shot at me this week, so I wanted to do the same when I crossed the line," said Bettini is a post-race press conference. "The gun was not fired at someone in particular. If someone felt it, then, they know who they are." He further clarified, "It was directed at those outside of cycling, who makes statements and know nothing about cycling. They make their statements for economical reasons."

"His race was the best response after a week of being tormented," Bugno continued. "I appreciate it because he not only won, but for how he battled through a difficult situation."

Bettini refused to sign the UCI's riders' commitment even though he had agreed to a similar contract he drafted in July. The issue, combined with unfounded accusations from former team-mate Patrik Sinkewitz, put pressure on the race's organizer. Stuttgart Administrator for Culture, Education and Sport Doctor Susanne Eisenmann had tried to force the UCI to prevent Bettini from racing.

The organizers also insisted that Bugno, along with Eddy Merckx and Rudi Altig, not attend the race. "Instead I was there for the presentation of the 2008 Worlds in Varese. I don't need an invitation from the German organizers. I don't have any disagreements with the words of Merckx, who had called [the organizers] 'idiots.' To be at the side of Merckx is a lot better than being at the side of the gentlemen of Stuttgart."

Bugno went on to express his respect of the rider who matched his record 15 years later. "He is the greatest champion of his era. I don't like to make comparisons because I consider them useless, but Bettini has made history. Not only is he a great rider in the Classics. And don't forget that he won the [2004] Olympics."

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