Paolo Bettini (born April 1, 1974 in Cecina, Livorno, Tuscany) is an Italian champion road racing cyclist for UCI ProTeam Quick Step. He won gold medals in the 2004 Athens Olympics road race and in the 2006 and 2007 World Road Race Championships. He won the UCI Road World Cup series three times in succession, in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and has also won stages of the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, and Vuelta a España. He finished in 9th place at the 2000 Summer Olympics, and won a silver medal at the 2001 World Championships in Lisbon, Portugal.
He is nicknamed "Il Grillo" ("The Cricket") for his propensity to attack repeatedly, and for his sprinting style.
Bettini started his career as a domestique to classics star Michele Bartoli. However, Bartoli's injury and Bettini's wins in several key races meant that he was given more latitude to race for himself. Bettini won the 2000 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and a flat stage of the 2000 Tour de France from Agen to Dax near the Pyrenees, barely edging out the charging peloton. The next year he won the 2001 Züri-Metzgete after a few months lacking any wins. Having made his way into the winning breakaway, he beat the favorite Jan Ullrich in the finale of the race by using his acceleration to jump away from Ullrich in the sprint to the finish. His worsening feud with Bartoli culminated in the 2001 World Cycling Championship in Lisbon, Portugal, where even though he was in the final breakaway with Bartoli, the latter refused Bettini's request to lead him out in the sprint finish, thus allowing Spaniard Freire to win the race.
However, injury sustained in the Gent-Wevelgem forced Bettini to miss several races until the Tour de France in July. He then followed through with a charismatic win in the HEW Cyclassics in front of Tour de France runner-up Jan Ullrich, and a win in the Clásica de San Sebastián.
Unfortunately Paolo Bettini failed to win the UCI Road Cycling World Championship despite being the overall favorite, due to a tactical mistake at the end of the race. Having established himself in the winning breakaway with Spaniard Igor Astarloa, a moment's hesitation allowed Astarloa to break away to the finish to win the race. At the end of the race Astarloa claimed that Bettini had offered him money to relinquish the win, which Astarloa said he refused. A feud ensued, and Astarloa has since attributed his comment to a misunderstanding between his Spanish and Bettini's Italian .
The 2004 season started well with his performance in the Milan-Sanremo, but saw an emergent Davide Rebellin win the triplet of La Flèche Wallonne (not in the World Cup), Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Amstel Gold Race. Bettini's disappointments only continue with second-place finishes in the HEW Cyclassics which he had won previously, and again in the Clásica de San Sebastián, again which he had won only last year. The points gained in Paris-Tours - usually a pure sprinters race - was enough to put him in the World Cup leader's jersey, but with the last race the Giro di Lombardia better suited to Rebellin's riding style, the World Cup was not yet safe.
However, despite the absence of Luca Paolini due to injury - which meant the loss of a native of the race circuit - Bettini managed to follow Rebellin throughout the race and control his climbing, resulting in Rebellin quitting in frustration.
Paolo's most important victory was in the 2004 Summer Olympics which saw him break away with only one other rider in the final laps and sprinting for a comfortable margin of victory. Unfortunately, he yet again failed to win the UCI Road Cycling World Championship due to a knee injury when he banged his knee against the team car at the beginning of the race.
Bettini won the first race of the season after winning the Trofeo Soller race, which is part of the Challenge Mallorca. He also won the Gran Premio di Lugano, two stages in the the Tirreno-Adriatico and the 15th stage in the Giro d'Italia, where he also won the Points classification (maglia ciclamino). Following the Giro he became the Italian National Road Race Champion and won a stage at the Vuelta a España before going on to capture the world champion's jersey at the Road World Championships.
When his brother Sauro died in a car accident a few days after that victory, Bettini was on the verge of abandoning professional cycling. However he changed his mind and soon afterwards won the Giro di Lombardia classic, in tears.
On March 2, 2007, Velo magazine awarded Bettini the prestigious Velo d'Or award as the best cyclist for 2006.
Bettini's start of the season was plagued by a series of injuries, including a fall at the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and fractured a rib when he fell on a wet descent in the Vuelta al País Vasco. He wasn't able to win a stage at the Giro d'Italia but later won the Trofeo Matteoti and stages at the Österreich Rundfahrt and Tour de Wallonie. He also won two stages at the Vuelta a España, where he announced he was leaving Quick Step after 10 years due to a financial dispute. On September 27th, he annonced his retirement.