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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 March, 2003, 16:25 GMT
Bettini sprints to San Remo win
Paolo Bettini
Bettini gets his World Cup campaign off to the perfect start
Italy's Paolo Bettini sprinted to victory in the Milan-San Remo Classic on Saturday.

The Domina Vacanze-Elitron rider held off compatriots Mirko Celestino and Luca Paolini to clinch the first of the season's World Cup races.

World champion Mario Cipollini had some extra cheer on his 36th birthday as he claimed top spot in the bunch sprint, finishing in overall fourth place.

Cipollini, who won the 297km race last year, proved he is still a major competitor despite not being fully fit after a stomach upset on Friday.

"It was a tough battle but I really wanted this victory today and I dedicate it to the team," said Bettini.

"I said to myself before the start of the race that I would take a few risks and I did."

Bettini, who won the gruelling 297km race in six hours, 44 minutes and 43 seconds, paid tribute to Quick.Step team-mate Paolini for playing a pivotal role in the triumph.

"All these years I have found it difficult to find a rider who fully understands me, but with Paolini I have a strong relationship.

"Today we dominated the first race of the season and deserved victory."

The celebrations in San Remo were overshadowed by the news that Martin Derganc had to be rushed to hospital with head injuries after a crash.

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