CYCLING Italy's Bettini wins as Americans falter



ATHENS, Greece -- Italy's Paolo Bettini pulled away in the final 100 meters to win the men's cycling road race, while one of the deepest groups of American riders in an Olympics failed to reach the medals stand.
Bettini made a desperate surge past Portugal's Sergio Paulinho, who led much of the final lap around the 8.2-mile circuit
Bettini, a former world champion who built his training for the year solely around this one race, finished the 139.4-mile test in 5 hours, 41 minutes, 44 seconds. Paulinho was one second back; Belgium's Axel Merckx was another seven seconds back in third.
Hamilton top American
Tyler Hamilton was the top American rider, finishing 18th and in a pack officially listed as 12 seconds behind Bettini's winning time of 5 hours, 41 minutes, 44 seconds over the 139.4-mile course. The day was little more than a source of frustration for the U.S. side, which believed it had four legitimate medal contenders.
"Unless you're a step above everybody else like Bettini was today, it's a little bit like a lottery," Hamilton said. "We took our chances and unfortunately, it didn't pan out. I think we get a good grade for our efforts. Maybe not an A, but maybe an A-minus."
Although three minor pileups took out a handful of riders, it was the searing midday heat that exacted the biggest toll: About half the 144-man field didn't finish.
Americans flirt with lead
At various times after the race's midpoint, three Americans -- Bobby Julich, Levi Leipheimer and Hamilton -- each flirted with the lead, yet never got to the front.
George Hincapie, a teammate of Lance Armstrong in each of the Texan's last six Tour de France victories, finished 24th along with Hamilton. Julich was listed as 28th with the same time; Leipheimer dropped out on the next-to-last lap.
Temperatures reached 104 degrees on sunny sections of the course, and several riders could not finish.
Associated Press

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