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By Andrew Hood
Don’t expect to see Paolo Bettini in Madrid.
The Quick Step-Innergetic rider told VeloNews in a rest-day interview Monday he’s planning an early Vuelta exit to put the finishing touches on his preparations for the Salzburg world championships later this month.
“I will probably leave around the stage near Granada,” Bettini said, referring to stage 17. “The (Italian) team is arriving in Salzburg on Sunday and I need to go home at least one day to see my wife, or she’ll kill me!”
Such is the life of one of cycling’s superstars as he prepares for what’s the last major race that the 32-year-old Italian has never won.
Bettini said he’s feeling “stronger every day” during the Vuelta, capped by his surprise stage one victory against the top sprinters in Córdoba.
“I want to arrive in Salzburg in optimum conditions,” Bettini continued. “The final week of the Vuelta is very hard. It’s better to leave a few days early and have everything just right. Plus, the team is meeting early and they want to have everything prepared.”
Il Grillo – “the Cricket” – has been close before in world championship competition, finishing second in 2001 and fourth in 2003.
Last year in Madrid, Bettini also left the Vuelta early (stage 18) and was in a late-race breakaway looking dangerous when he was called off to help team captain Alessandro Petacchi. It was a controversial decision that fueled weeks worth of headlines in the Italian media when Petacchi faltered in the final lap, opening the door for Tom Boonen to claim the rainbow jersey.
This year, Bettini will roll into Salzburg with the confidence of knowing he’s the outright team leader of the always-ambitious Italian squad.
“I want to win the world championships and I think we will have the strongest team there,” Bettini said. “(Danilo) Di Luca will come as co-captain, because it’s always smart to have two options.”
The 2004 Olympic gold medalist said he’s surveyed the course several times and called it “challenging and demanding.”
“This course is like Amstel Gold, with roads that are three meters wide,” he said. “The descent off the main climb is especially dangerous and I am sure it will play a key role in the race.”
Freire unlikely to make world’s
Oscar Freire’s hopes of becoming the first rider to win four road world championship titles will have to wait another year.
The three-time world champ was forced out of the Tour of Poland on Wednesday and all but nixed plans to race in the Salzburg world’s race later this month.
“In all realistic possibilities, Oscar won’t be able to race the world’s,” Freire’s brother Antonio told reporters Wednesday. “He hasn’t been able to train or race to obtain the fitness he needs to compete in a race as hard as the world championships. He is very disappointed.”
This will be the second year in a row Freire, 31, has had to skip the world championships due to injury.
Last year, complications from surgery to remove a cyst in his hip area forced him out of the world’s held in Madrid last year in a course that favored his sprinting style.
Earlier this season, the Rabobank sprinter looked to be injury-free again, winning two stages in the Tour de France before abandoning in stage 18, complaining of dizziness and intense headaches.
Freire won the Vattenfall Cyclassics race in Hamburg, Germany, the following weekend, but left the Vuelta due to continued dizziness caused by a neck problem.
Freire – who won world titles in 1999, 2001 and 2004 – has been plagued with back problems throughout his career.
Wednesday’s 11th stage at the Vuelta a España started in Freire’s hometown of Torrelavega in the “Oscar Freire Velodrome.” Freire was missing, but his son and wife were present to cheer on the Vuelta peloton.
Freire is one of four riders who’ve won three world road titles. The others are Alfredo Binda, Eddy Merckx and Rik Van Steenbergen.
Vande Velde confirmed for world’s
Christian Vande Velde will race the world championships later this month, telling VeloNews that he will race a “few one-day races in France and Belgium” to hone his form ahead of Salzburg.
The Team CSC rider raced the 2004 world’s, but was a last-minute scratch for last year’s route in Madrid after falling ill with food poisoning just days before the race.
Vande Velde will join Chris Horner and Fred Rodriguez (both Davitamon-Lotto), who’ve already confirmed they will be lining up in Salzburg in the stars and stripes jersey.
Millar gets world’s slot
David Millar will race in the world championships for the first time since he won the 2003 world time trial title, only to have it stripped away after he confessed to using the banned blood booster EPO.
Millar, 29, has earned a spot on the Great Britain world’s team after serving a two-year ban that ended just ahead of the Tour de France. Millar is honing his form in the Vuelta a España and figured highly in the winning 15-man breakaway in Tuesday’s 10th stage.
Other British riders getting a nod are Roger Hammond (Discovery Channel) and Russell Downing.
Millar’s return to the national team hasn’t been without controversy.
“The last thing I want to do is send a message out that doping is accepted, but equally, the way things stand with the regulations he is eligible for selection,” David Brailsford, the Team GB manager, told The London Times. “His attitude to life has changed dramatically and I think he’s learned his lesson. I run a 100 percent clean program and I think that, despite all the hurt at the moment, more people will take an ethical stance. The culture of doping will be broken. Choosing Dave is not the greatest message, but the current regulations allow us to do that.”
Brailsford added that Millar has been visited by out-of-competition testers from UK Sport at his home and has also been tested by British Cycling four or five times since June.