There were 283 days of activity this year for Il Grillo Livornese, Paolo Bettini. The 32 year-old Italian of Quick-Step started his racing season this year on February 5 in Mallorca and concluded it, as newly crowned world champion, on November 14 in Germany, at the Six Days of Munich. Along with picking up wins in the Giro di Lombardia and the Italian championships, Bettini watched his sport struggle with Operación Puerto and dealt with the death of his brother.
"I discovered a beautiful world," said Bettini to La Gazzetta dello Sport regarding his season finale at the Six Days of Munich. "We tried to create the ProTour but in actuality it lives here [in six day racing]. On the track you can find la crema della crema. Maybe we went down a dangerous road, to continue at all costs for modernization [in the ProTour]. The spectators no longer understand anything. What sense is it to have two races at the same time, like Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice? We need logic."
The ProTour, which started in 2005, is still in its infancy and perhaps suffered from the late-May developments of Operación Puerto. Many riders who were initially linked with the blood doping investigation have since been found not guilty by their federations and allowed to return to cycling; one such cyclist is Ivan Basso.
"Enough with the hypocrisy," continued the 2004 Olympic champion. "But how is it that Basso could not race and then we discover that Manolo Saiz has the right to make a ProTour team? It is an interesting game, and we cyclists always pay. Ivan has every right to compete."
Bettini had to deal with problems much closer to home this fall. Only one week after winning the world title in Salzburg his brother Sauro passed away after being involved in a car accident near their home in Livorno. Bettini chose to deal with the pain of losing his only brother by continuing to race; caping the season with an emotional win in the Giro di Lombardia.
"I dream of my brother almost every night. He is not here physically, but he is always with me. I miss him; I miss him a lot."
As of yesterday, Monday, Il Grillo is officially off the bike and in vacation mode in the Maldive Islands. "I will return on December 6, and on December 8 I will attend our first team camp in Marina di Bibbona, near my home. But for me the true 2007 season will start on January 2, not sooner."