Bettini's silence speaks volumes

Alessandro Petacchi's failure in Madrid on Sunday was symptomatic of an Italian performance which is

Alessandro Petacchi's failure in Madrid on Sunday was symptomatic of an Italian performance which is
MADRID - One of the glorious old traditions of the world championship road race - the Italian-team post mortem - was already in full swing within minutes of Tom Boonen pulling on the rainbow jersey in Madrid this evening. While Alessandro Petacchi slumped over his handlebars just beyond the finish-line which he had crossed in 35th position moments earlier, Paolo Bettini shunned the approaches of the media to seek refuge in the Italian team-coach a few hundred metres further up the Paseo de la Castellana. Bettini was clearly furious, but it was not clear why. He certainly had every right to be aggrieved at coach Franco Ballerini's instructions not to work in an eleven-man group containing a host of top riders, which may have held off the peloton had more riders collaborated with the Spanish trio of Valverde, Perdiguero and Pereiro. Bettini might also have been wondering why he was the sole Italian representative in that group. Late this evening, the Italian had still not yet given a definitive explanation. Petacchi, meanwhile, complained of having heavy legs on the final two laps. Petacchi also claimed that he had been hindered by sinus problems and a swirling wind. Ballerini, though, wondered out loud how sinus problems could possibly have affected his star rider's legs. There was also an apparent discrepancy between what Petacchi had said to Ballerini over the intercom radio, and what the rider had told lead-out man Marco Velo. Ballerini said that he had first known about Petacchi's problems on the final lap, while Velo said that he had been alerted on the previous circuit. Either way, it was a belated alarm-call which may have jeopardised Bettini's victory chances. Another rider who had every right to feel disappointed tonight was Denmark's Jakob Piil. Arguably the most combative rider in today's field, the Dane finished sixth in the bunch sprint even after attacking on countless occasions in the final fifty kilometres. "The problem with the breakaway was that almost all of the riders had a good excuse not to take hard pulls," Piil reflected. "Only the Spaniards and I rode really hard. I got angry with Bettini when he and I were alone off the front because he wouldn't take any pulls. I said to myself that I wouldn't help him the next time we found ourselves together." Piil, who sustained concussion, a broken thumb and bruised ribs when he crashed out of the Vuelta a Espana two weeks ago, said that he was nonetheless happy with his overall performance. "I'm in the shape of my life and, if I hadn't been blocked, I could have finished even higher in the sprint."

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