By Andrew Hood
World champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) admits he’s not in good enough shape to tackle the demands of the cobble-stoned climbs at the Tour of Flanders and is giving a pass on the Belgian monument along with E3 Prijs Vlaanderen.
He will race instead in the Vuelta a País Vasco in Spain’s Basque Country ahead of the hillier courses at Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège that favor his riding style.
“I’m giving up Flanders with the aim of being more competitive in the Ardennes classics,” Bettini said. “My plan is to race at Brabantse Pijl next Sunday and then País Vasco. This last race should give me the right condition up to the Ardennes, like in 2002 when I won my second Liège.”
The decision comes following Bettini’s ride in Milan-San Remo on Saturday. The Olympic champion was away on a move over the Cipressa, but the attack never looked very convincing and he finished a rather anonymous 102nd at more than five minutes back.
Bettini, who turns 34 on April 1, hasn’t won a race yet this season and made the decision to skip Flanders after huddling with team brass to reconsider his approach for the all important spring classics for the powerful Quick Step team.
“It’s a difficult decision, and everyone knows how much these classic races mean to me. I talked with team manager Patrick Lefevere and he supports my decision,” Bettini said. “To be competitive on these types of very demanding races, you need to be at 100 percent. At this time I cannot give this kind of guarantee to my team, and for this reason I’m ceding my place to somebody else who can be more effective for the team.”
In other Quick Step news, riders bound for the Giro d’Italia will be previewing some of the key mountain stages this week.
Making the reconnaissance mission will be Juan Manuel Garate, winner of a mountain stage at San Pellegrino in 2006 and the climber’s jersey that year, along with Swiss rider Hubert Schwab, Belgian climber Kevin Seeldrayers and Russian Alexander Efimkin, fresh off a top-10 at Paris-Nice.
“Hoping that the weather will be on our side, we’ll explore the most important mountain stages. Tomorrow and Thursday we’ll be on the Dolomites,” said sport director Luca Guercilena.
“First we’ll try the course of the 14th stage, which foresees the Manghen Pass and the arrival at Alpe di Pampeago. Then it will be time for the big stage from Arabba to Pordoi Pass with the inedited arrival at the Fedaia Pass. On Friday then we’ll move on to Val Seriana on the Bergamascan Alps to test the course of the 19th stage with arrival at Monte Pora.”