by Justin Davis
VARESE, Italy, Sept 27, 2008 (AFP) – One of cycling’s modern day greats, Paolo Bettini of Italy, has confirmed he will retire after the final race of the world road race championships on Sunday.
The 34-year-old Italian, a favourite to win a third consecutive gold here, said the men’s road race held over 260.25 km would be his career swansong.
“I’ve had a lot to reflect about the past few months and the idea has just grown in my head,” said Bettini.
“I’ve decided, in all serenity, to end my career.”
After starting his career as a ‘domestique’ to fellow Italian Michele Bartoli, Bettini went on to forge a reputation of his own in some of cycling’s toughest one-day races.
Having claimed the first of two prestigious Liege-Bastogne-Liege titles in 2000 – the year of his first overall World Cup title – he went on to add others while notching the odd stage wins from the three major Tours.
From the three major Tours he claimed one stage at the Tour de France, in 2000, two at the Giro d’Italia, in 2005 and 2006, and recently claimed two stages at the Tour of Spain to take his tally at the Vuelta to five.
Bettini added more luster to his impressive list of wins by claiming the Olympic crown in Athens in 2004.
Last month he lost his Olympic title to Samuel Sanchez of Spain, but the diminutive Italian from Tuscany has a chance for revenge in another race which has been dear to his heart – the world championships road race.
The wearer of the coveted world champion’s rainbow jersey the past two years, Bettini said it would be his last chance to put his world class on display.
“Cycling has given me a lot and I hope I’ve given something back. I’ve got no regrets,” he added, fighting back the tears.
“The world championship has kind of become my race. I’m here to give it one last shot, and I have the determination to go out and fight for another win, whatever it takes.”
Uncertainty recently surrounded Bettini’s future after his team, Quick Step, turned down his request for a bumper, final-season contract.
He added: “I’m sure I’ve made the right decision. I’ve given this a lot of thought over the past few days and I’ve felt nothing to contradict what I’m feeling.”
Date of birth: April 1, 1974
Place of birth: Cecina (Italy)
Height: 1.69 m
Weight: 58 kg
Teams: MG (1997), Asics (1998), Mapei (1999 – 2002), Quick Step (since 2003)
Olympic Games 2004 road race
World championships road race 2006, 2007
Overall World Cup series 2002, 2003, 2004
Italian championship 2003, 2006
Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2000 and 2002, Zurich Championship 2001 and 2005, Milan-San Remo 2003, HEW-Cyclassics (Hamburg) 2003, Classica San Sebastian 2003, Tour of Lombardy 2005 and 2006
Coppa Placci 2001, Tour du Latium 2002, Coppa Sabatini 2002, GP de Camaiore
Tour of Lucca 1999, International Week 2000, Cecchi-Gori Memorial 2000, Tour of Liguria 2002, Tour of the Walloon Region, Tour of the Mediterranean 2003, Tirreno-Adriatico 2004
Tour de France: one stage (2000)
Giro d’Italia: two stages (2005, 2006)
Tour of Spain: five stages (2005, 2006, 2007, two in 2008)