Double cycling blow for Italians
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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Double cycling blow for Italians

by Agence France-Presse at 4:54 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Defending champion Paolo Bettini of Italy put a brave face on losing his Olympic road race crown to Spaniard Samuel Sanchez here on Saturday.

But after the first big endurance test of the Games, the two-time world champion all but admitted the Italians had suffered a double blow

While Sanchez's maiden Olympic gold capped another gold-tinged year for his countrymen, Bettini finished out of the medals - and Rebellin finished in the worst ever place for a cyclist.

Rebellin will likely remember the finish line at the Great Wall of China for a long time. On his 37th birthday, he just missed out on taking the Olympic title on what is likely to be his last participation.

Bettini was left out of the running along with fellow pre-race favourite Alejandro Valverde of Spain after a series of attacks on the final ascent of the race's 9km climb.

The 34-year-old Italian, however, admitted he had made a more serious tactical error. And despite Rebellin's second place, it was one he painfully regretted. "I made the mistake of watching Valverde too closely," said Bettini. "With the legs I had today I should have just concentrated on my own race. Davide has twice sacrificed himself for me, at the world championships in 2006 and 2007, so I'm happy for him although I'm sorry he finished second. "But I'm not really happy about how the race went. The plan was for me to watch Valverde, and for Davide to keep an eye on Sanchez. Maybe I should have just gone with my instinct."

Rebellin tried to put a positive spin on winning his first Olympic medal from only his second participation. But the pain etched on his face belied his words after the race. "Winning the silver medal is like a prize in itself. I've had plenty of runner-up places in my career, but this one is by far the best," said the 37-year-old. "Bettini was always the team leader but in the finale when I found myself in front I decided to go for it. To finish second always leaves a bitter taste. You're only one step away from gold."

Despite his disappointment, Rebellin had a kind word for Sanchez - a five-time stage winner at the Tour of Spain who thus becomes the first ever Spanish winner of the men's Olympic road race. "We saw who was the strongest today, and it was Samuel."

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