Bettini shoots down critics with brilliant win

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STUTTGART, Germany, Sep 30 (Reuters) Paolo Bettini shot back at his critics in word, deed and gesture today after he staged a successful defence of his world road race title.

Bettini was the subject of doping reports in German media this week, while local organisers tried to ban him through the courts for his refusal to sign the complete anti-doping pledge.

He responded by winning a five-man sprint for the line to retain his rainbow jersey, before sitting up in the saddle and stretching out his arms to fire off a symbolic rifle shot.

''So many people have been shooting at me this week but I wasn't shooting at anyone in particular,'' he said at a news conference after finishing ahead of Russia's Alexandr Kolobnev in second and Germany's Stefan Schumacher in third.

''I still feel angry, just as I did before the race.'' The 33-year-old Olympic champion has not signed the International Cycling Union's (UCI) anti-doping pledge, partly because of a clause that means any rider receiving a standard two-year drugs ban has to pay a fine of a year's salary.

Bettini has clearly distanced himself from doping, however, and he has promised to take legal action against a German television station that aired allegations against him this week.

''I won't let anyone damage my reputation,'' he said. ''People who've said things against me will have to show proof or they will have to pay.'' UCI president Pat McQuaid started the week firmly reprimanding Bettini for his refusal to sign but on Sunday he had warm praise for the Italian's achievement.

''There's a famous saying from Italy: Veni, vidi, vici and Paolo Bettini came, saw and conquered,'' McQuaid told reporters.

''A rider who can win a race under the pressure he's been under is a classic, special rider. I've nothing but the highest praise for him. He won a classic race today, with the best five riders of the race at the front, and he came through and won.

''We can only give him all the praise and support he needs.'' Bettini, who waited so long to win his first world title, will now go on to bid for a hat-trick on Italian soil in Varese next year.

''It's true that I'm very angry but this week taught me that I have to go on and to fight. I will still be here for one more year at least.'' Reuers RS GC2257

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