Italy is probably number one in the world for making racing cars, handbags,
shoes, suits, racing bikes, cyclists and nicknames.
Paolo Bettini, “Il Grillo,” The Cricket. He is so named for his
ability to outwit the peloton with his jumps or attacks. Just as a cricket,
everyone expects him to launch an attack, usually favoured on short steep
climbs, but no one can catch him anyway.
In 2002 he attacked so early in Liege-Bastogne-Liege that he and team mate Garzelli never had to look back as he stormed to victory. However, as the big
favourite going into the Olympic Road Race, Athens 2004, Bettini’s rivals should
have been expecting his attack on the decisive Lycabettus Hill, and yet once
again The Cricket proved he can jump a lot faster and further than
Sadly, not all riders had the chance to do anything about it at all. Davide
Rebellin, Bettini’s closest rival in one day races, was not selected by the
Italian camp and presumably watched the race or went training; one suspects the
latter. Igor Astarloa, the World Race Champion, must be seriously reflecting on
“the curse of the Rainbow Jersey.” In the very first lap, a silly tumble which
also involved Michael Boogerd, Astarloa saw his race finish before it had really
started. So insuring the curse as part of Greek tragedy.
Past the temple of Parthenon atop the Acropolis.
© Getty Images /
It was a superb circuit. Hardly a flat yard, technical, a variation of
surfaces, Lycabettus Hill, superb views of Ancient and Modern Athens, and even a
stretch of cobbles.
Sweden's Magnus Backstedt, winner of Paris Roubaix this year, found the
temptation too much when he saw the cobbled section, and stormed off down the
road on lap two. Suicidal move? Of course, but adopted Welshman Backstedt soon
had good company. Any surprise that they were both Quickstep riders? Richard (is
the camera on me) Virenque and Laszlo Bodrogi caught Backstedt on the eighth
Magnus Backstedt of Sweden passes a Greek statue. © Getty Images
/ Clive Mason
Then attack followed attack and the heat and hills took their toll. Big names
started to fall by the wayside; Sydney Olympic silver medallist and last
month's Tour de France runner-up Andreas Kloden amongst them, retiring on lap
10. Cristian Moreni (Italy) covered a dangerous move of six riders including
McEwen on the 13th lap.
Climbing Lycabettus Hill in today's men's road race.
© Getty Images / Doug Pensinger.
A flurry of attacks, with the excellent Luca Paolini (Italy) marking out
Merckx, and a much diminished peloton approached the Lycabettus climb for the
penultimate time. Absolutely no surprise when “Il Grillo” jumped. What was
surprising was that Sergio Paulinho (Portugal) was the only rider to be able to
catch The Cricket. The 24 year old Time Trial champion of Portugal knew
then he had two choices - work with Bettini and get at least Silver - or get
nothing. He chose the former option. The two men steadily increased their gap
until under the flamme rouge.
Sergio Paulinho did his best to out fox a cricket, but Bettini was always in
control. The 30-year-old Cricket of Cecina made his final jump of the day to
take the Gold with time to make a few dedications to his wife and family. A
theme he continued in the post race interview - "I'm just just delighted to have
won this race and I dedicate it to my wife and daughter... I hope they saw my
race on the television."
The family theme extended to Axel Merckx, who, once again, made a late charge
in a race, which he seemed strong enough to win. It will be interesting to see
how he develops next year with Johan Bruyneel and the Discovery team.
So Italian dreams realised. Bettini the worthy Olympic Champion and his
handshake with silver medallist Sergio Paulinho a tribute to Olympic Spirit. So
“The Golden Cricket” has got the jump on everyone? Not quite. Davide
Rebellin will be looking to make his point in the next World Cup races.
Meantime, the “Golden Cricket” joins a host of Greek legends.
Bettini at the Tour de France Presentation.
Photo by Susanne and Florian Schaaf,
Quotes from Today's Legends
Paolo Bettini (Italy - Gold Medallist)
On the race: "It was a very competitive race. The structure of the road which
had many turns and hills in combination with the hot weather made the race very
On the dedication of his medal: "I want to dedicate my medal to my family. My
family, my team and God helped me to win the gold."
On his preparation: "Last night before I went to sleep I was thinking that I
should win the gold. Today, I woke up, I ate breakfast and I said to myself
let's go for the gold."
Read our article from this spring about The Cricket:
Paolo Bettini’s Roots
Sergio Paulinho (Portugal - Silver Medallist)
About the silver medal: "It's an amazing feeling, it's wonderful. It's
the best day of my life. I didn't expect it. I'm very happy and I dedicate this
medal to my country."
About the race: "It was a difficult race. It was too hot, but finally I took
the second place."
Axel Merckx (Belgium - Bronze Medallist)
"It's a dream come true. When the final jump came, I was too far behind to
react, but Bettini was the best today, he deserved his win. I had very good legs
today and I was very pleased to win the bronze... I really had to kick
everything for the bronze."