Posted by Editoress on 09/28/08
Road World Championships - Men's Road Race Varese, ITA
15 laps, 260.25km
Paolo Bettini may have retired, but Italy continues to hold the men's world road title, with an heir apparent in Alessandro Ballan, who broke away from a select group of leaders in the final kilometres to solo in before wildly appreciative Italian crowd. The spectators got even more excited when Damiano Cunego made it 1-2 for Italy, and Davide Rebellin almost made it a sweep before being nipped at the line by Denmark's Matti Breschel. Michael Barry was the only member of the three man Canadian squad to finish, rolling in with the main field for 33rd place, after crashing early in the race.
"I don't know what happened," Barry explained. "We were just in the feed zone and I was on the ground before I could react, and I went down hard. I had to change bikes, and then change back to my team bike after it was fixed."
"The race ended up being a bit anti-climactic for me; I attacked a couple of times after the climb [in the last lap], but everything was being chased down. It was really disappointing, considering that I have good legs and good shape right now, and I was hoping for better."
The action began on the second lap of the 15 lap race with an attack by Richard Ochoa Quintero (Venezuela). He was joined by Oleg Chuzhda (Ukraine) and Christian Poos (Luxembourg), and the trio motored away from a largely disinterested peloton.
The gap increased rapidly, and by the halfway point was over 17 minutes, putting the leaders approximately half a lap in front of the field. This proved to be too much for the Italians, and they sent six riders to the front of the peloton to up the pace.
The break began coming back rapidly - almost three minutes a lap - while the field was shedding riders out the back under the pace making of the Italians. By the end of lap 10, the leaders were only five minutes ahead, and starting to soft pedal, as they realized the end was near.
A lap later the Belgians joined in the chase, and then the peloton exploded when Bettini went to the front and attacked. However, the Italians were realizing that the plan to support Bettini was doomed to failure, since the entire field reacted to every twitch by the Italian leader. This led them to come with an alternate strategy of sending other contenders away in a break.
"We were all working for Paolo [Bettini], but it was very controlled, and he made the decision to let us go," explained Ballan. "I have to admire him for the gesture."
"Yesterday evening there was no 'second strategy', but during the race we could see that Bettini was being controlled by the Spanish team, so that is why the decision was made to race differently."
With less than three laps remaining the break was caught and the peloton was down to less than 60 riders. Multiple attacks by the Italians thinned the field further, and an attack by Ballan on the penultimate lap proved to be the decisive one. Ballan was initially joined by Fabian Wegmann (Germany), Joaquin Rodriguez (Spain), Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) and Breschel. Thomas Lövkvist (Sweden), Robert Gesink (Netherlands), Chris Sörensen (Denmark) and Andriy Grivko (Ukraine) jumped across next, and finally seven more made it to the leaders - Christian Pfannberger (Austria), Davide Rebellin (Italy), Damiano Cunego (Italy), Andriy Grivko (Ukraine), Jurgen Van Goolen (Belgium), Nick Nuyens (Belgium) and Philippe Gilbert (Belgium).
Up the final climb, with less than ten kilometres to go, Pfannberger opened the action, but was quickly chased down. Sorensen countered, and then Cunego after the Dane was brought back. In that brief lull, with less than three kilometres to go, Ballan launched a massive effort, and immediately opened a significant 30 metre gap.
Sorensen led the chase, but the damage had been done, and no one was willing to extend themselves too far in the final kilometre with the sprint for a medal coming up.
Ballan was able to cruise in to the stadium with his arms in the air to huge roars of approval, while Rebellin, Breschel and Cunego sprinted side by side in the final 200 metres for the remaining podium spots. Almost five minutes later, Bettini led a procession to the finish line, where the remaining riders in the peloton allowed Bettini and his fellow retiree Erik Zabel (Germany) to roll across the line first.
"It was a big surprise for me, I am astonished. I knew that I was strong, but not to win. I knew the finish, so I knew that it was possible to attack where I did and succeed. It was hard, very hard, but the fans gave me strength with their encouragement."
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