After putting an end to his professional career at the World Championships in Varese one month ago, Paolo Bettini is currently riding the Amsterdam Sixday and will be at the start of the Milano Sixday as well. But apart from these spectacle appearances, the Italian's active days are over - and he has only one regret about his road racing days.
"I would have liked to win the Tour of Flanders," Bettini said to Belgium's La Dernière Heure. "It will always be missed on my palmarès. But the truth is that I never won any race on the cobbles. Why? I have no idea. I am Paolo Bettini and surely the pavés just weren't for me. I was always beaten there, even if I finished third and fifth of Het Volk and seventh and ninth in Flanders..."
Amongst other one-day race specialists, Bettini sees Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert as a breakthrough talent who could become a great champion. Two weeks ago, Gilbert won Paris-Tours, his first major classic after winning Belgian season opener Het Volk twice already.
"He is strong; he is an excellent rider with a little of my characteristics as well as those of Di Luca," Bettini said about his former rival. "But he still needs a big success. Once that is done, he will have shown that he is a great champion. I know he won Paris-Tours - and in a beautiful way - but it doesn't equal Liège or Flanders. If I had started by winning Hamburg, I would have never told myself that I was able to win five or six classics or even the Worlds. But after my victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2000, I did."
The experienced veteran also had some good advice for the 26 year-old Gilbert. "He can win both of the Ardennes classics," Bettini added. "He may be more suited to Amstel, but he can also be victorious in Flèche and Liège. For that, he will have to turn his back on Milano-Sanremo and some of the cobbled classics, though. It is virtually impossible to shine in all of these races. The problem is: If you are at 100 percent in Sanremo, you lose fitness week after week, and five weeks is a long time..."