Sunday, September 30, 2007

Italy's Paolo Bettini was crowned world champion for the second consecutive year after winning the elite men's race at the world road championships on Sunday in Stuttgart. But while Bettini was basking in the glory of his achievement, his anger at recent criticism was also apparent at the finish.

As he crossed the line he pretended to fire a machine gun, and when asked exactly who he was shooting at, his response was ice-cold.

"So many people have shot at me this week that I wanted to fire back a few bullets of my own," he said. "I wasn't aiming at anyone in particular, but if anyone feels I was taking aim specifically at them, perhaps they believe I have a reason to be shooting at them."

The criticism began when a German television station ZDF accused him of providing former teammate Patrik Sinkewitz with doping products. Sinkewitz was barred from competing at this summer's Tour de France for testing positive to testosterone doping and later fired from his T-Mobile team after he admitted to using Testogel, a topically applied testosterone ointment. Sinkewitz has neither confirmed nor denied ZDF's accusations. Bettini announced on the eve of the race that he intends to sue ZDF for their accusations.

Bettini only got the all-clear to defend his crown on Friday, after a bid by organizers to bar him from the competition, because he would not sign an anti-doping agreement to provide a compulsory blood sample.

"I feel angry," he replied when asked how he felt. "I was angry at the start of the race and I am angry now about the allegations made against me. I will not let anyone damage my career after all the sacrifices I have made. I will enjoy the moment, but I want to see what can be done about the people who have tried to damage my career."

And he has no plans to retire anytime soon. "Someone taught me that I had to go out and fight, so I think I will be around for at least another year."

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