Paolo Bettini to retire after world title defence

Italian cycling great hangs it up at 34

One of cycling's modern day greats, Paolo Bettini of Italy, has confirmed he will retire after the final race of the world road race championships on Sunday.

The 34-year-old Italian, a favourite to win a third consecutive gold in Varese, said the men's road race held over 260.25 km would be his career swansong.

"I've had a lot to reflect about the past few months and the idea has just grown in my head," said Bettini. "I've decided, in all serenity, to end my career."

After starting his career as a 'domestique' to fellow Italian Michele Bartoli, Bettini went on to forge a reputation of his own in some of cycling's toughest one-day races. Having claimed the first of two prestigious Liege-Bastogne-Liege titles in 2000 - the year of his first overall World Cup title - he went on to add others while notching the odd stage wins from the three major Tours.

From the three major Tours he claimed one stage at the Tour de France, in 2000, two at the Giro d'Italia, in 2005 and 2006, and recently claimed two stages at the Tour of Spain to take his tally at the Vuelta to five. Bettini added more lustre to his impressive list of wins by claiming the Olympic crown in Athens in 2004.

Last month he lost his Olympic title to Samuel Sanchez of Spain, but the diminutive Italian from Tuscany has a chance for revenge in another race which has been dear to his heart - the world championships road race.

The wearer of the coveted world champion's rainbow jersey the past two years, Bettini said it would be his last chance to put his world class on display.

"Cycling has given me a lot and I hope I've given something back. I've got no regrets," he added, fighting back the tears.

"The world championship has kind of become my race. I'm here to give it one last shot, and I have the determination to go out and fight for another win, whatever it takes."

Uncertainty recently surrounded Bettini's future after his team, Quick Step, turned down his request for a bumper, final-season contract.

He added: "I'm sure I've made the right decision. I've given this a lot of thought over the past few days and I've felt nothing to contradict what I'm feeling."

© AFP 2008...

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