Patrick Lefevere is pleased with Quick.Step-Innergetic co-team leader Paolo Bettini, after he successfully defended his 2006 world title in Stuttgart on the weekend. "[Bettini is] without a doubt the best rider of the past 10 years, finally the champion that he always wanted to be," Lefevere proclaimed to Sportwereld.be.
Lefevere believes that his rider was in the best possible form during the race on Sunday and that he could immediately see that Bettini was riding well. "As a rider Paolo is a nervous mouse," he said. "I saw on Sunday immediately that he was comfortable. He rode away with the title again, never looked in trouble and rode like he had eyes in the back of his head.
"He is the best rider of the last 10 years, because unlike a lot of other riders, he races from January until October," he added.
Lefevere believes that Bettini's career really stared to gain momentum some eight years ago. "The day that his leader Bartoli broke his knee in the Tour of Germany in 1999 was the beginning for him," noted Lefevere. "He began with Liège in 2000 and from there he built his palmarès little by little."
As for Bettini's chances in his home tour, the Giro, Lefevere says that if he wasn't such a nervous rider and if he didn't want to win all the time, he has the talent to finish top five. "If Bettini wasn't such a nervous rider, then he could ride to a top ten in a Grand Tour," he said. "He can't concentrate on that sort of classification for three weeks. He always wants to go with the moves, he wants to win. He has a top five in the Giro in his legs. But then he couldn't ride Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-Sanremo and the Ronde van Vlaanderen to win, and he doesn't want to do that."
"After Stuttgart he has finally become the hero and the champion that he always wanted to be," added Lefevere. "In Athens Bettini took the gold, but in Italy he was still only seen as support for Cunego and Di Luca. Until Salzburg in 2006 and a week later when his brother Sauro had his accident, through his impressive win in Lombardy he became a hero."