Bettini finishes with a bang

99th Giro di Lombardia - ProT

Italy, October 15, 2005

ProTour standings

Although it wasn't quite the same dominating ride that saw Paolo Bettini win the Championship of Zurich two weeks ago, the Olympic Champion still had it all over his rivals in today's 99th Giro di Lombardia. After forcing the decisive break on the Madonna del Ghisallo climb with less than 50 km to go, Bettini finished off the task by beating Gilberto Simoni (Lampre), Fränk Schleck (CSC) and Giampaolo Caruso (Liberty Seguros) in a four man sprint in Como. As he put it afterwards, there was no way he could lose.

Surprisingly, it was the first time that Bettini had finished on the podium in Lombardy. "It was a race that had eluded me a little, and this makes it even more enjoyable," said an excited Bettini after the finish. "I beat a great Simoni. To put a climber like him in difficulty on the Ghisallo makes me happy. Besides, I'm called Bettini: when I'm happy I make a racket. You'll excuse me today if I exaggerated.

"I couldn't lose. Since 2000, there hasn't been one year that I haven't one at least one or two big races. This year I counted 62 days of antibiotics up until July: my health was my biggest opponent...I have made up for everything in the last months, except for the World's. In 2006, who knows? I could aim at the Giro, but I would not say that now."

Bettini now counts eight classic wins in his palmares, which means that he's getting closer to Johan Museeuw's impressive tally of 11. "My friend Johan Museeuw, who won all the biggest classics, told me that one day I would beat him," said Bettini. I just need three more to equal him. To have a perfect career, I still should win Flanders, a World Championship, and besides those, the monumental Paris-Roubaix, even if it would take a miracle for the latter to happen."

Gilberto Simoni had a fine ride for second place, and he was always able to challenge Bettini, although he couldn't drop Il Grillo on the climbs. " "Today Paolo Bettini did a great race: he was almost unbeatable," said Simoni. "For a moment I thought I could beat him in the sprint but he was too strong. I tried to attack several times but without success. It was difficult to make the difference on the San Fermo climb, which is like the climbs of Milano Sanremo. It's too bad; I would have liked to win this race and finish a season which was not as I expected."

The third podium spot went to Fränk Schleck (CSC), who also finished off a very consistent period of racing, His second place in Zurich and third today being the highlights. "I really had to dig deep to reach the two up front again on the two last climbs," said the Luxembourg champion. "It was an extremely tough finish, but it was a fantastic feeling to be up there at the end of Giro di Lombardia. The team gave me the perfect support today and I'm happy to have secured a spot on the podium. I'm also proud of the way I've managed to finish this season, and it definitely has an effect on my expectations and ambitions for next year

How it unfolded

The 99th Giro di Lombardia got under way at 10:42am from the Swiss border town of Mendrisio, near Lake Lugano. Bart Dockx (Davitamon-Lotto) was the only non-starter of the 193-strong field. It didn't take long for the attacks to start, and Francesco Bellotti (Credit Agricole), Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi) and Juan Mercado (Quick.Step) went clear inside the first 20 km. Di Luca's presence doomed the break, although he did try to get away again in the company of Eric Leblacher (Credit Agricole), Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto), Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears) and Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros) after 29 km.

That break also didn't stick and lasted until km 38, but after 41 km, a dozen riders escaped and quickly built a three minute lead after 66 km: Giovanni Visconti (Domina Vacanze), Marcus Zberg (Gerolsteiner), Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears), Carlos Barredo and Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros), Devis Miorin (Liquigas-Bianchi), Valerio Agnoli (Naturino), Davide Bramati (Quick.Step), Bram De Groot (Rabobank), Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval), Ivan De Gasperi (LPR) and Sascha Urweider (Phonak). Christiano Frattini (Tenax) tried to get across, but was reabsorbed by the peloton at km 73.

With such a big group, the peloton didn't let the break get too far away, and pegged the gap to 5'15 after 104 km. CSC led the pursuit as the race left the shores of Lake Como for a while and hit the climbs of Taceno (km 145) and the Colle di Balisio (km 162). At the top of the Taceno climb, the gap had fallen to 2'00 as Urweider was dropped from the break.

CSC continued to lead the chase with the aim of recapturing the break before the crucial Madonna del Ghisallo climb which started at km 192. But before this, Danilo Di Luca attacked solo at km 152, catching Urweider and distancing the peloton by 20 seconds. The pair lasted until km 164, then Di Luca called it a day at the feed zone in Onno (km 184). He had already shown that he wasn't going to be completely anonymous today, although his actions indicated that he had little intention of being in the finale.

The peloton was within striking distance of the break as the climb to the Madonna del Ghisallo shrine started. The patron saint of cyclists was looking out for Paolo Bettini today, and the Olympic Champion ramped up the pace on the lower slopes of the climb to mop up the leaders, with Allan Davis the last man standing. Bettini set a fierce tempo, and only four other riders managed to stay with him: Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Caffita), Fränk Schleck and Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Giampaolo Caruso (Liberty). Chasing them were Emanuele Sella and Luca Mazzanti (Panaria), Leonardo Bertagnolli (Cofidis), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Caffita) and Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears).

Over the top of the climb with 44 km to go, the Bettini-driven group had nearly half a minute on the nearest chasers. They were able to capitalise on that on the descent and pushed it out to the magic minute through Albavilla with 23 km to go. The chase group was reabsorbed by the peloton, which was falling further behind the leading quintet as Bettini kept the pressure on.

On the penultimate climb through the narrow streets of Civiglio, Bettini and Simoni turned the screws and first Sastre, then Caruso and Schleck were dropped. But the Luxembourg champ hung tough and quickly chased back on the descent, while Caruso had to do a bit more work to regain the breakaways before the final climb of San Fermo di Battaglia with 10 km to go. The Bettini/Simoni battle resumed on this short but steep (10 percent) ascent, with Bettini getting a gap with 700m to the summit. It looked good for a short time, until Simoni and Schleck closed it at the top.

On the descent into Como, Schleck was taking a back seat role, as he knew the other two were stronger. Caruso had more work to do, again having to chase alone on the descent. But he had enough left to catch the leading three with 1 km to go. He tried to attack immediately, but Bettini was right on his wheel. Instead, the Liberty man chose to lead out the sprint. Bettini, Simoni and Schleck were glued to each other's wheels, but when Bettini hit out with 300 metres to go, there was nothing the other two could do, and they crossed in exactly the same order.

In the peloton sprint, Fabian Wegmann provided an excellent leadout for his Gerolsteiner teammate Davide Rebellin, who finished fifth and gained enough points to move him up into third in the ProTour standings behind Danilo Di Luca and Tom Boonen.

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