World's retro: One for the money, two for the show

Paolo Bettini (ITA)

Paolo Bettini (ITA) (Image credit: Andrea Hübner)

Paolo Bettini proudly waved his homeland's flag after being crowned world champion in the Elite Men's Road Race last weekend but, as Les Woodland recounts, patriotism at the worlds hasn't always been on the forefront of competitors' minds.

So Paolo Bettini is champion of the world and Italians are happy. It's about time because decades can pass without Italy being wholly content about what goes on at the world championship. Either the wrong man won, or the right people rode for the wrong man, or an Italian didn't win at all. But believe me, this is nothing compared to how it used to be in France.

Fast-wind back 40 years. There are still good Italians but the focus of international cycling is further north. Belgium has the classics winners and big sprinters, like Rik van Looy, and a rising talent in Eddy Merckx. France has the Tour winner, Jacques Anquetil, and his perpetual runner-up, Raymond Poulidor.

Time and again, the French enrolled Anquetil and Poulidor for the world championship without either of them winning. Poulidor won widely-spaced bronzes - two of them - and a silver, but Anquetil never once stood on the rostrum... until 1966, when he stood in second place with Poulidor beneath him.

And yet either man should have won. And Poulidor would have had it not been for Anquetil. If you think it smells of skulduggery, you're dead right.

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