World Champion Bettini searches for more

News feature, December 15, 2006

Flanders and Roubaix for Il Grillo

Paolo Bettini is starting his 2007 season close to home, on the roads of southern Italy, near Livorno. His team, Quick-Step has come together for one week to train and use their new bikes from Specialized. Gregor Brown reports from their training camp in Marina di Bibbona.

Mike Sinyard, president of Specialized bicycles, introduced Bettini to the gathered press, "It is a honour to be working with them, and Mister Bettini, who has a great history in racing. It is very exciting to work with the best team in the world."

Sinyard was referring to the current world champion, who just returned from vacation after a fall that included winning the Worlds, Giro di Lombardia and competing two six day races. Bettini, along with Tom Boonen, form the core of the Belgium-based team that looks stronger than ever.

"The six day races were truly a beautiful experience," noted Bettini of his debut on the track this fall. "They are no joke, they are really tough races to do. I would like to try them again in the future. It is something you have to specialise in. Over the next two years there is still a lot I want to accomplish [on the road], so there is not much time to do specific work on the track. Two years is not enough to learn all there is to learn in this field."

Bettini had come to the track after accomplishing one of his career goals; winning the world championship. It had set a relaxed tone for his winter and starting the new 2007 season. "It was strange how the last worlds ended," he reflected. "I never had thought it would end in that way but this is cycling. Even McEwen was there in the end. Of course I have to give a lot to thanks to the Spaniards."

The worlds underlined Bettini's one-day strength and in 2007 he wants to add to his palmarès by winning the Tour of Flanders. "I would prefer Flanders above a third Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I am satisfied, above all, for the worlds, and before that it was the Olympics. Both of those races were huge satisfactions. There are still more races but I am happy with what I have achieved.

"If I am able to race Roubaix [after Flanders - ed.], with the [worlds] jersey that I have, even without the goal of winning, then I would like to try. Just to get the experience and help the team."

With the world and Olympic titles, can we expect more from Bettini? "I will find the stimulus to win even more. The world championship jersey is a good thing, and a good reason to go ahead and win, not just rest in the group."

Would you accept Boonen winning Milano-Sanremo and you taking the Tour of Flanders? "It would be great for us!" said Bettini. "Flanders is difficult but simple if you arrive in great condition. You look at last year, on the Koppenberg, there we were five minutes back. The next year there won't be this climb but there will be others. We have to see how the race goes... Even this year, it will be better to have Van Petegem in the team. In the years before we could never afford to take him into the finale with us because he is so dangerous.

"Even if Tom was to win the Sanremo, we would go to Flanders with more than one plan. It is a six-hour race and anything can happen."

Boonen and Bettini will start the season on different roads, the Belgian in Qatar and Bettini will head to California. "I will start in February and then over to California," he explained. "They are two diverse programs but we will be ready for the objectives when we come together. Like Sanremo and Flanders.

"I will race the Tour of the California, thanks to Specialized. Always California," joked Bettini, who comes from La California, south of Livorno. "Then I will come back to Italy, Milano-Torino, and so on. I want to show off my jersey in Italy."

Winning his home tour is now out of the question. "My plate is full, I can't think of winning the Giro. Mountain finishes and the time trials; it is too hard for me. If you lose time there then you are not able to compete for the overall. If I really changed my whole way of thinking then maybe I could do it. But I would sacrifice the one-day races, and then if I only arrived in sixth [in the Giro] it would be terrible."

Bettini is very content to have the world's jersey in his possession, but believes it will not affect the team's focus. "Last year it was Tom in the jersey, but it is a Belgian team and he was getting all the attention from the Belgians. I don't think me having the jersey will change the whole structure of the team."

Finally, Bettini could not leave without talking about the current problems with the ProTour. "I believe that when we stared the ProTour everyone was concerned but I know it takes years to develop some new overall competition. The critics need to make constructive suggestions. ... We need to have clearer ideas on how the ProTour classification is won. It is hard for the fans to understand, we need something that is easier to follow, like the World Cup before."

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