By Gregor Brown
Italian Paolo Bettini has taken the Fourth Premio Gazzetta as best cyclist of the year for 2007. The honour bestowed by Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport was in recognition for the 33 year-old's performances this last year, which included a repeat win in the World Championship in Stuttgart, Germany. It was his second year in a row to win the award following last year's win.
Alberto Contador, winner of the Tour de France and Paris-Nice, finished second behind the Quick.Step-Innergetic rider by 43 points. The award (also called Premio Coppi-Bici d'Oro) was calculated by taking the votes from the team managers of the 20 ProTour teams, the organisers of the major races and 17 past cycling legends, such as Eddy Merckx.
"I am in agreement. It is true that Contador won the Tour, but even I miss winning the Worlds twice in a row," commented the most decorated cyclist in history, Merckx, to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
The win in the World Championships the third after a stage win in the Tour of California and Vuelta a España was also an emotional comeback of sorts for the rider from La California (Livorno). The International Cycling Union (UCI) and Stuttgart race organiser had attempted to ban the defending champion from taking part due to his refusal to sign the UCI Riders' DNA Agreement. Bettini fought back and won ahead of Alexandr Kolobnev and Stefan Schumacher while firing an imaginary gun into the air as a victory salute against those who had to try to keep him from racing.
His 2007 season was not as impressive as last year's when he won the GP di Lugano, the Italian Championships, two stages in Tirreno-Adriatico, a stage in each of the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta in addition to the Worlds. The lack of total wins showed in a tighter finish; Bettini gained 77 points to Contador's 35, while Danilo Di Luca (Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro) and Cadel Evans (ProTour overall) trailed behind, respectively. Last year, Il Grillo Livornese took the prize by 59 points over Alejandro Valverde.
"Paolino is unique," confirmed the Italian National Directeur Sportif Franco Ballerini. "While racing he's aware...understands in advance how the events will unfold He is gifted with a special radar."
Past winners of the Oscar Premio Gazzetta (or 11th 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), Tom Boonen (2005) and Bettini (2006).