Spanish Dream - Italian Nightmare
Being pre-race favourite before the Worlds rarely produces the result
that either the bookmakers or punsters expect. Cipollini's victory last year on the pancake flat Zolder course was a
recent exception, but prior to that, recent winners such as Brochard,
Freire and Camenzind have all surprised both fans and bookmakers alike.
Italian team manager Franco Ballerini was well aware pre-race of the
dangers that faced his multi-talented "Squadra Azzurra."
"The only thing that could throw a spanner in the works is if it turns
out to be a battle between Spain and Italy, then someone else could nip in
and take advantage; if that doesn't happen then there's no reason why Bettini shouldn't win. It's a perfect course for him and the team are right
Indeed the 260.4km race, held over 21 laps with two short climbs on a
12.4km inner city circuit, proved to be an intense war of attrition, with
both the Spanish and Italian teams watching every move throughout the race
paying particular attention on the Becketts Drive climb and allowing no one
to gain a meaningful advantage. However the estimated 104000 spectators were
treated to a thrilling race.
True to Ballerini's claim, the "Squadra Azzurra" did work tirelessly for
their Captain with Dario Frigo being the outstanding team member.
However, on the penultimate lap an earlier attack by Swiss rider
Martin Elmiger and Dane Frank Hoj saw the best laid plans fall asunder.
As they were caught it was double classic winner Peter Van Petegem who
led the counterattack. Five other riders still had the legs to respond: Bettini, Astarloa, Oscar Camenzind, Michael Boogerd and Bo Hamburger, and
they built a slender lead on the remaining 112 riders with just 6 kilometres to
The peloton was still big enough and strong enough to respond and on the
final climb of the day of Claremont Access, Astarloa attacked while Bettini
was working hard to keep the peloton at bay.
Astarloa, who turned professional in 2000 with the Mercatone Uno squad
and became the first Spaniard to win the Fleche-Wallonne one-day classic
(or any other Northern Classic for that matter) this season, for his Saeco
team, turned on the power in a style reminiscent of Jeannie Longo’s effort
in the Ladies race.
However, unlike Longo, he had a shorter distance to cover and streamed
solo down the finishing straight to achieve a remarkable victory.
For Bettini things got worse and worse. Spanish sensation Alejandro Valverde did manage to bridge the gap and took second place ahead of Van
Petegem, leaving Bettini and Italy without reward or medal for all their work
in fourth spot.
What they Said
Reported from Hamilton by Tony Szurly
Igor Astarloa Askasibar
A delighted Astarloa was clearly overjoyed with the result:
"I don't think I'm going to believe this even a year from now," he said,
with tears of joy streaming down his face.
"I spoke with Oscar (Freire) and he told me he wasn't feeling strong
enough to follow Bettini, so he told me to take care of Bettini and he would
stay behind in case of a mass sprint," explained Astarloa. “We had agreed
before the race that there would be no clear Captain.”
"I decided to attack in the last couple of kilometres and knew it would
be difficult, especially as I had the wind in my face. I knew they would be
doing their best to catch me. But on the last bend I looked back and saw that
Valverde was with them and so he could help control the group,"
"I'm not a major stage racer, I much prefer one-day races."
”My team mates gave me the confidence and enthusiasm to go all out for
the sprint and take the silver.”
“Although the Italian team were dedicated to Bettini, he did not seem to be
the same rider as in the last few months. On the last climb up Beckett Drive,
he was on the small chainring and I knew it was time to attack."
Words from the Italian Team
Reported by Fabio
Despite the poor result of the Italian team, with red hot favourite Paolo Bettini uncapable of taking a medal either, the National Team coach sounded satisfied with the way the “ Azzurri” worked. Interviewed by the “” paper right after the race, “Ballero” said that “If anyone looked at the final result, he might regard it as disappointing, but I must say that to scold rider who snatched fourth, and had a good ride after all, is not so easy. I know that, as I’ve been racing until yesterday. And I must say that Italy rode hard and rode to win. I said that I would be disappointed if the “Squadra” had wasted a chance, but nevertheless I think they have tried everything they could”.
Again from Ballerini ”And what actually happened is that they simply found a rider able to make the difference. All we can say is “Chapeau” (“Hats Off”) to him. He launched a very good attack, and to make such move where he did simply meant that your gonna get a good result. As for Italy, I think today’s result isn’t the proper reward for a solid team like we have been in the race. I am thoroughly satisfied with the job they did, the boys gave all they could. Yes, I know that sometimes even snatching second at the Worlds is worthless, so you can imagine a fourth place finish, but there are many different ways to lose a race, and I think that, all things considered, Italy has done a fine job”.
The Cricket tried hard in the very last part of the race, but simply couldn’t. "I’m disappointed. But I must say that the best one won. It’s a pity, as everything was going according to our plans. But Astarloa did attack at the right time. I tried to “cheat” a little, pretending I wasn’t able to chase him, and waiting for the other guys in the break to start the chasing work.. But they didn’t cooperate, everyone was marking me, and let the Spaniard go. So when I started the chase, it was too late. In the end, I can say I have no regrets anyway, apart from the fact I wasn’t able to grab any medal”.
More words from Bettini: “The team was great. I must thank my team-mates: they did a good job, made the race harder, and the parcours made the selection. Then Igor came and did what we had to: he attacked at the right time, and broke away. When there’s someone stronger than you, you just can’t help it. And today Astarloa was stronger. He’s a very good rider: I remember that last year he was even a contender for the World Cup Title”.
Danilo Di Luca
The fair-headed rider said more or less the same things: "We worked well. In the last two laps I helped on the climb, that was my “territory”. We were aiming for a bunch sprint, with Bettini in great condition, certainly better than ours. It was a pity that the only thing we missed was victory”.
Also known as Bettini’s loyal team-mate both at Quick Step and the Italian National Team, put in a huge effort to help him bring Astarloa back in the very last part of the race, but unfortunately (for Italians at least, certainly not the Spaniards) it didn’t work this ime: "Unfortunately Astarloa broke away on the last ascent and managed to open a 100-m gap that proved decisive. And by the time he peaked, he had spoiled our plans" Paolini, who helped Bettini win both MSR and the Italian National Road Championships this year, told “Gazzetta dello Sport”
Paolo Bettini’s family
They watched the race, along with 1.500 more fans, in a maxi-screen in their hometown Cecina. And at the end of the competition The Cricket’s mother, Giuliana, said that “My son has given me plenty of satisfactions, but it’s something huge this night. The fact he didn’t win wasn’t a tragedy. We are just missing the icing on the cake, which could come next year.”
So joy for Spain, satisfaction for Belgium and you cannot help feel a
little sorry for the "Squadra Azzurra" who have worked so hard throughout these
championships with no reward. Still, as Bettini's mother said, there is always 2004...
Road Worlds Championships 2003 - Final Medal Table:
(Gold - Silver - Bronze)
* Holland - 2 - 3 - 2
* Germany - 2 - 1 - 2
* Spain - 2 - 1 - 0
* Russia - 1 - 1 - 2
* Great Britain - 1 - 0 - 1
* Sweden - 1 - 0 - 1
* Uzbekistan - 1 - 0 - 0
* Belgium - 0 - 1 - 1
* Australia - 0 - 1 - 0
* Denmark - 0 - 1 - 0
* Ukraine - 0 - 1 - 0
* Czech Republic - 0 - 0 - 1