Bettini wins in sprint finish to defend road race title

Updated: September 30, 2007, 1:26 PM ET
Associated Press

STUTTGART, Germany -- Paolo Bettini defended his road race title at the world championships Sunday, beating Alexandr Kolobnev of Russia and Stefan Schumacher of Germany in a sprint finish.

The victory came two days after a court ruled against an effort to ban the Italian for refusing to sign an anti-doping pledge.

"It was a torturous week for me," Bettini said. "I had a lot of anger inside me. The only thing I could do was respond with a victory."

He finished the 166.2-mile race in 6 hours, 44 minutes, 43 seconds, relying on powerful climbing to become the first repeat winner since compatriot Gianni Bugno in 1991-92.

The 33-year-old Olympic champion, who also had to endure stinging criticism from the head of the cycling federation, collapsed crying in the arms of a team official at the end.

"He came, he saw, he won," said UCI President Pat McQuaid, who handed Bettini the winner's rainbow jersey days after criticizing him for not signing the anti-doping pledge.

"It is no problem to give a rider of that caliber the jersey, especially after the pressure he was under," McQuaid said.

Bettini has said he is committed to the anti-doping fight but considers the fines in the pledge to be excessive.

Stuttgart city authorities went to court in an attempt to ban Bettini, but the court said the pledge was not legally binding. The UCI had criticized Bettini for refusing to sign the pledge but backed his right to start.

Behind the medalists, Frank Schleck of Luxembourg was fourth and Australian Cadel Evans was last of the leading group.

The course was set up for strong climbers with enough endurance to get over the Herdweg and Birkenkopf hills on each of the 14 laps before finishing with a long uphill to the finish.

On the last climb of the day, Bettini put on the pressure and only four could stay with him.

Bettini goaded the others into going for the finish line, knowing he would be the best sprinter. Kolobnev opened the sprint from a long way out, Bettini bided his time and struck at the right moment, shouting out his joy and frustration crossing the finish line.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press