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By Andrew Hood
What a week Italian Michele Bartoli has had. A week after being left off the victorious “Squadra Azzurri” at the world championships, rather than slip into “polemica” Bartoli let his legs do the talking. He won Milan-Turin on Wednesday and culminated his revenge tour with a dramatic victory in Saturday’s Giro di Lombardia.
Bartoli held off compatriot Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Swiss rider Oscar Carmenzind (Phonak) in an exciting sprint to win the finale of the 10-round World Cup series. The victory was Bartoli’s second World Cup victory this season (he won Amstel Gold in April) and bounced him into third in the final World Cup standings.
Compatriot Paolo Bettini (Mapei), meanwhile, wrapped up the overall World Cup title after Johan Museeuw (Domo) decided to skip Lombardia despite being just nine points behind the Italian in the overall standings.
Recently crowned world champion Mario Cipollini opted not to race because he said the course didn’t suit him (a decision that couldn’t have been popular with sponsors) but he showed up at the race start to show off his hardware.
Early in the race, Fassa Bortolo’s Paolo Tiralongo pulled away and a chase group of nearly 20 riders gave chase. Several contenders were in the chase group, including Fracnesco Casagrande and Ivan Basso (both of Fassa), Rebellin, Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom), Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) and Dario Frigo (Tacconi Sport). Alessandro Guerra (Alexia) bridged out to Tiralongo and dropped him on the Berbenno climb with about 40 km to go.
The peloton and the chase group split over the Berbenno climb, but everything came back on the descent. Several more attacks over the final 25 km failed. Going into the final short but difficult climb up the Boccola climb with 5 km to go, a herd of Fassa Bortolo moved to the front.
About 20 riders came into the finish in the lead group. Casagrande was the first to make a move, but Bartoli is too strong and takes the victory ahead of Rebellin and Carmenzind.
After years of trying, Bartoli finally won Lombardia, the hilliest and most difficult of the post-Tour classics on the World Cup schedule. Bartoli’s late-season run comes after a hard fall in the first week of the Giro d’Italia that derailed the middle of his season and kept him out of the Tour de France. At 32, Bartoli remains one of Italy’s top racers. The two-time overall World Cup champion (1997-98), with victory is Bartoli’s fifth World Cup win in his career.
Bettini finished safely in 30th place to secure the biggest prize of his already prolific career after rival Museeuw decided to skip the hilly Lombardia. Spain’s Igor Astarloa started the day 99 points behind Bettini and stood an outside chance of stealing the cup from Bettini if he could score the 100 points with an outright victory and Bettini finished out of the points. Bettini won Liege-Bastogne-Liege and finished second at the Zurich World Cup in August to stay close to Museeuw, winner of Paris-Roubaix and HEW Cyclassics. Bettini took seven points on Museeuw at Paris-Tours earlier this month on a flat course that favored to the Belgian.
The weekend caps what’s been a wild celebration of Italian cycling. The Lion King is the world champion. Bettini is World Cup champion and now Bartoli is back on top of the world. Who’s next in this Italian renaissance? Marco Pantani?
TOUR OF LOMBARDY; BERGAMO, ITALY; OCTOBER 19;1. Michele Bartoli (I), Fassa Bortolo, 251km in 6:14:49 (40.980 kph); 2. Davide Rebellin (I); 3. Oscar Camenzind (Swi); 4. Marco Serpellini (I); 5. Francesco Casagrande (I); 6. Michael Boogerd (Nl); 7. Pablo Lastras (Sp); 8. Joseba Beloki (Sp); 9. Dario Frigo (I); 10. Francisco Mancebo (Sp); 11. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kzk); 12. Manuel Beltran (Sp); 13. Leonardo Piepoli (I); 14. Gilberto Simoni (I), all s.t.; 15. Ivan Basso (I) at 0:04; 16. Angelo Lopeboselli (I), at 0:14; 17. Leonardo Giordani (I), s.t.; 18. Matthias Kessler (G), at 0: 27; 19. Beat Zberg (Swi); 20. Cedric Vasseur (F); 21. Gerhard Trampusch (A); 22. Vladimir Miholjevic (Cro); 23. Igor Astarloa (Sp); 24. Luca Mazzanti (I); 25. Fabiano Fontanelli (I), all s.t.;Also; 30. Paolo Bettini (I), s.t.
FINAL WORLD CUP STANDINGS; (AFTER 10 OF 10 RACES); 1. Paolo Bettini, 279 points; 2. Johan Museeuw, 270; 3. Michele Bartoli, 242; 4. Igor Astarloa, 183; 5. Davide Rebellin, 179; 6. Dario Frigo, 156; 7. George Hincapie, 124; 8. Peter Van Petegem, 121; 9. Oscar Freire , 111; 10. Jo Planckaert, 107;ALSO; 13. Lance Armstrong, 90; 14. Erik Zabel, 86; 17. Fred Rodriguez, 79