By Andrew Hood
Olympic champion Paolo Bettini says the upcoming Tour de France will be more interesting without the dominating presence of seven-time champion Lance Armstrong. With Armstrong retired, Bettini said the race will have suspense it didn’t during Armstrong’s unprecedented seven-year run. “That Lance won’t be there is good for the spectacle,” Bettini told the Spanish daily Marca. “Before you could only aspire for second place, but now there will be at least 10 riders that go for it, riders who can win. The race will have less control, there will be unthinkable battles that weren’t imaginable a year ago. This will attract more people. For sure more people will watch the television than in the past Tour.” Bettini’s words come just as he finished up the Mallorca Challenge, where he won one of the five legs on the Spanish islands. The natural-born-winner is hoping to get back to his prolific ways after a lackluster 2005 season marked by poor form and relatively few wins. Bettini also nodded Alejandro Valverde and Ivan Basso as likely Armstrong heirs. “Valverde is a Tour winner. He has a lot of class and has a good head,” he said. “I don’t see Cunego as a Tour winner. First, he has to get to know the race, and that takes a few years, then we’ll see. In Italy, everyone is looking to Basso. He’s improved a lot in his time trial, his weak point.” Bettini said, with his contract ending at the end of this season, he wouldn’t discount riding for a Spanish team, adding he likes the Spanish climate and tipped the quality of the Spanish teams. Concerning last year’s world championships in Madrid, Bettini said he didn’t want to enter into “polemics,” but said that if a teammate wasn’t in condition to go for the win, “he should be man enough to admit it.” Nothing polemic about that. Ruta del Sol shaping as sprinters’ duel
The upcoming Ruta del Sol (Feb. 12-16) is shaping up to be a duel of cycling’s top sprinters, though a Spanish mountain goat will likely ride away with the prize. Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) are all penciled in to start the five-stage race across Spain’s Andalucia region. It should be quite the shootout in the early, flat stages. The overall will likely be decided among the Spanish guns, always hungry to snag an early season win on home roads. Defending champ Francisco Cabello (Andalucia-Paul Versan) will be back along with Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile) and Juan Miguel Mercado (Agritubel). Boonen, Bettini to debut diamond helmet
World champion Tom Boonen and Olympic champion Paolo Bettini will be riding with diamonds – not on the soles of their shoes – but rather on their helmet. Lazer helmets has specially designed helmets with diamonds and gold for the entire Quick Step-Innergetic team based on big wins, but Boonen and Bettini will be riding with 1.18-carat diamonds in their helmets. Other riders will receive a 1-carat diamond if they win major races, as in the ProTour for example. Boonen will make his debut at the Ruta del Sol.