From pupil to top achiever
Paolo Bettini crowned his career with an emotional victory in the men's world championship road race in Salzburg. The Italian attacked twice in the latter stages, but was unable to get away. Finally, he found the wheels of Erik Zabel (Germany), Alejandro Valverde and Samuel Sanchez (Spain) as a gap opened up with 500m to go, and beat them all to take the rainbow jersey. Jean-François Quénet profiles Bettini's career.
Ten years ago, the UCI inaugurated the U23 world championships to succeed the amateur category. The Italians dominated the rest of the pack that day. They captured the first four places: Giuliano Figueras, Roberto Sgambelluri and Luca Sironi got the medals but they insisted on Paolo Bettini to join them on stage for ceremony. For the first time, in 1996, the friendly kid from La California in Tuscany became full of emotions listening to "fratelli d'Italia", his national anthem.
Figueras, Sgambelluri and Sironi might have been overrated too early. They were quickly treated like stars in Italian cycling while Bettini was taken under Michele Bartoli's wings. They moved together from MG-Technogym (1997) to ASICS (1998), then Mapei. Bettini learnt his job as a domestique. He would have done anything to make Bartoli a winner. At the time, when Bartoli decided to live in Monaco, he invited Bettini and his girlfriend (now his wife) Monica to visit because they didn't know this little tax-free paradise on the French Riviera. When Bartoli as a World number one flew to France to race the Chrono des Herbiers as the last race of the year in 1998, he brought Bettini and his other good friend Luca Scinto with him.
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