By Andrew Hood
Quick Step’s Paolo Bettini tried for three weeks to win a stage at the 2003 Tour de France but fell short.
Now, a week later at Sunday’s HEW Cyclassics race in Germany, the Italian upstaged local favorite Jan Ullrich (Bianchi) to win his second World Cup victory of the season.
“This is a great race, no matter what people say,” said Bettini, who moved into second overall in the World Cup standings. “Some criticize it because the course is relatively undemanding, but look how exciting it was. I’m delighted with this victory, and I’m looking forward to winning this race again.”
Ullrich and Bettini were the main protagonists in a hot and muggy day in northern Germany. Huge crowds turned out to cheer Ullrich and held signs to thank the rider who once raced for an amateur team in Hamburg.
“This was fantastic today. I had goose bumps,” said Ullrich, who won the HEW Cyclassics in 1997 a year before it gained World Cup status. “But now I’m exhausted and could use a vacation. Besides, I have a cold.'”
The race’s winning move came over the Weseberg, when Ullrich powered away from the main bunch over the short but steep climb. The German is fresh off his dramatic second-place finish behind Lance Armstrong at the Tour and wanted to make the most of his form.
Bettini was hot on Big Jan’s wheel, and also catching a ride were Mirko Celestino and Igor Astarloa (both Saeco) and Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner).
The leading quintet opened up a small gap of 30 seconds on the main bunch, but few teams looked interested in organizing a dedicated chase group, and the front group entered the final kilometer with a 10-second margin.
With Ullrich and Co. away off the front, it was a drag race to the finish, with the leading five holding a slim 20-second margin with 5km to go. U.S. Postal’s George Hincapie and Magnus Backstedt (fakta) tried to jump away but couldn’t make the bridge.
By the time the peloton organized a chase, it was too late. Ullrich made a strong run with less than a kilometer to go, but Bettini was hot on his wheel. The “grasshopper” bounced ahead to claim the win with just over 300 meters to the line. Rebellin came through second while Ullrich got the final spot on the podium for his efforts.
“I knew I had to try something because I would have had no chance in a mass sprint,” Ullrich said. “It didn’t work out but if you don’t try, you don’t get anything.”
Bettini roared over the line for the victory, a sweet pay-off after missing out on a stage victory at the Tour. The victory revives Bettini’s chances in the World Cup and gives him motivation heading into the world championships, his top goal for the second half of the season.
“Thanks to this victory I’m again in race for the World Cup title,” said Bettini, currently ranked No. 1 in the world.
Two riders – Credit Agricole’s Stephane Auge and Wiesenhof’s Roberto Lochowki – slipped away early in the race and built up a 14-minute lead with 80km to go. U.S. Postal Service, Rabobank and Lotto-Domo collaborated to check the move with about 50km remaining.
Hincapie, fresh off his strong Tour de France performance, worked himself into a move with about 45km to go, but the break was quickly smothered as it had too many dangerous riders.
The main peloton was roaring over the final 40km with speeds almost hitting 60kph on the flats, effectively squelching any moves heading into the final passage up the Weseberg climb with 15km to go.
Lotto-Domo’s Peter Van Petegem – winner at Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – finished 23rd in the main bunch at three seconds back to grab three points and retain his overall World Cup lead.
The World Cup series continues Saturday with the Clasica San Sebastian race in Spain’s Basque Country.
Cycling World Cup results:
1. Paolo Bettini (I) 5:58:20
2. Davide Rebellin (I), same time
3. Jan Ullrich (G), s.t.
4. 4. Igor Astarloa (Sp), s.t.
5. Mirko Celestino (I), s.t.
6. Erik Zabel (G) at 0:03
7. Fabio Baldato (I), s.t.
8. Giovanni Lombardi (I), s.t.
9. Stefano Zanini (I), s.t.
10. Andrea Ferrigato (I), s.t.
11. Marko Zanotti (I), s.t.
12. Carlos Da Cruz (F), s.t.
13. Luca Paolini (I), s.t.
14. Steven de Jongh (Ned), s.t.
15. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), s.t.
16. Andy Flickinger (F), s.t.
17. Gabriele Missaglia (I), s.t.
18. Rene Haselbacher (A), s.t.
19. Julian Dean (NZ), s.t.
20. Magnus Backstedt (Swe), s.t.
World Cup standings:
1. Peter Van Petegem (B) 203 pts
2. Paolo Bettini (I) 200
3. Michael Boogerd (Ned) 140
4. Mirko Celestino (I) 127
5. Davide Rebellin (I) 123
6. Dario Pieri (I) 117
7. Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) 100
8. Frank Vandenbroucke (B) 92
9. Erik Zabel (G) 86
10. Fabio Baldato (I) 83