Bettini Wins Olympic Road Race
Paolo Bettini (Italy) is the Olympic road race champion.
Paolo Bettini (Italy) is the Olympic road race champion. The Italian stallion took a two-up sprint from Sergio Paulinho (Portugal) to win the 17-lap, 224.4-km race through Athens in 5:41:44. In the closing km, Axel Merckx (Belgium) slipped away from the peloton to take the bronze medal at 0:08.
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The race was ridden in sunny, hot (mid ?90s) conditions, and only 75 of the 144 starters finished the race. Attrition first took its toll at five km, when world champion Igor Astarloa (Spain), Michael Boogerd (Holland), Marlon Perez (Colombia), and Vladimir Karpets (Russia) crashed. All wound up abandoning.
At 23 km, Magnus Backstedt (Sweden) made the day?s first move. He sallied off of the front and built a three-minute lead. At 70 km, Richard Virenque (France) set out after the Swede. Eventually, he and Laszlo Bodrogi (Hungary) bridged up to Backstedt.
The Germans led the pursuit. By 132 km, 0:20 separated the bunch from the break. Attacks abounded. Bobby Julich (United States) and Luis Laverde (Colombia) bridged up to the leaders. The Germans were having none of it. At 134 km, they brought the field together.
Thirteen riders, including Merckx, Laverde, Julich, Romans Vainsteins (Latvia), Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spain), Vyatcheslav Ekimov (Russia), and Max van Heeswijk (Holland) escaped. The Germans and the Australians chased, however, and rode down the break.
Attacks continued. On the 15 th ascent of the Lycabettus climb, Bettini made the move that counted. The World Cup champion attacked, and only Paulinho followed. The two agreed to cooperate until the last km. The pair led the field by 0:25 by the beginning of the last lap and ran up their advantage to 0:43 halfway through the final circuit.
In the last km, the Italian and the Portuguese slowed and played cat and mouse. With 500 m left, Paulinho broke the impasse with an attack. Bettini easily countered to take the first gold medal of the 2004 Summer Olympics. Behind the gold and silver medalists, Merckx slipped his leash in the last four km to take bronze.
Bettini, who entered the race as the odds-on favorite after finishing second in World Cup races in Hamburg and San Sebastian, dedicated his victory to his wife and daughter in Italy. The Italian said that when he attacked, he did not expect to stay away because he is always marked. The World Cup and Olympic champion, who is arguably the world?s best one-day racer, is glad that he was wrong.
On August 18, many of the road race?s starters will compete in the Olympic time trial. Who will prevail? Jan Ullrich (Germany)? Tyler Hamilton or Levi Leipheimer (United States)? Defending champion Vyatcheslav Ekimov (Russia)? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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