Olympic champion Paolo Bettini took victory in a thrilling sprint finish at the World Road Race Championships in Salzburg on Sunday to add the title of World Champion to his name. The Italian stormed past Erik Zabel and Alejandro Valverde over the final few metres to take the rainbow jersey.
The vital attack of an otherwise scrappy race came on the final climb up to Elixhausen, where Luca Paolini broke off the front of the peloton, and was followed by an elite group including Karsten Kroon, Stefan Schumacher and Fabian Wegmann.
Defending champion Tom Boonen and Tour de France green jersey Robbie McEwen were unable to keep pace with the leaders, and saw their chances of victory evaporate, while Bettini tried a lone break.
He was soon hauled in by Wegmann, Vinokourov and Schumacher, and though a number of riders including David Rebellin and an impressive looking David Millar tried to escape, it was not until the final two kilometres that the front group of around 20 riders were truly blown apart.
Samuel Sanchez powered clear in an attempt to launch Alejandro Valverde, while Zabel and Bettini dug deep to cling onto the wheels of the Spanish duo.
But 200 metres from the finish, Zabel surged past Valverde, with Bettini on his wheel. In the end, it proved just a split second too early. Bettini had just enough time as the finish line approached to edge past.
“Of course it's harsh when you see the finish line 50 metre ahead, and then still get overtaken,” said six time Tour de France green jersey Erik Zabel. “It was a do-or-die attempt. It's a shame it didn't work right at the end.”
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In Salzburg cycling is very popular. The bicycle is the most favoured means of transportation in the population, the network of cycle paths is one of the most densely structured throughout Austria. Additionally professional cycling is quite significant too. Thus I am especially pleased that we succeeded in our bid to host the 2006 Road World Championships in Salzburg. The World Championships as one of the biggest sport events, taking place on venues all over world and each year, is an important multiplicator for race cycling and an unforgettable event for the fans of cycling – hence the preparations run at full speed. Already now I am looking forward to the competitions and the finishes in the heart of our city!