Thieves make off with world champion's bicycle

AGENCIES , ROME AND MILAN, ITALY

Sun, Oct 07, 2007 - Page 24

The bicycle Italy's Paolo Bettini rode to his second consecutive title at the world road race championships last week has been stolen, the Ansa news agency reported yesterday.

Thieves stole all 21 bicycles belonging to the Quick Step team and the van in which they were being stored overnight in the northern Italian town of Reggio Emilia ahead of yesterday's Memorial Cimurri race between Parma and Bologna.

The bicycles are estimated to be worth 150,000 euros (US$212,000).

"It was the bike from the world championships, I wanted to keep it," Bettini told reporters.

Bettini and the team used reserve bicycles for the 183km race.

The 33-year-old was crowned world champion in Stuttgart, Germany, last Sunday despite organizers trying to bar him from the competition, because he would not sign an anti-doping agreement to provide a compulsory blood sample.

Bettini, who is considering retirement at the end of the year, has said he "talked" with the bike to bond with it ahead of his tilt at a second successive world crown last week.