Italy?s Paolo Bettini is the new world champion after a perfectly timed final sprint in the centre of Salzburg.

Bettini was the most aggressive rider of the 265km race but still had the strength to beat Germany?s Erik Zabel and Spain?s Alejandro Valverde after the three edged clear of the main field through the twisting corners in the final kilometre of the 265km race.

Samuel Sanchez of Spain was fourth after sparking the late move and dragging Valverde clear, with Australians Robbie McEwen fifth and Stuart O?Grady fifth at two seconds. 2005 world champion Tom Boonen finished ninth.

Dave Millar finished 35th in the front group at two seconds. He got clear in a last-lap attack with Alexandre Vinokourov and Bettini over the top of the final climb but was caught by the chasing front group.

After crossing the line Bettini lifted his bike above his head in celebration and was then mobbed by Italians. He has gone close to winning the world title in recent years and was overjoyed to finally pull on the rainbow jersey.

?It was the longest finishing straight of my life but to beat Zabel and Valverde is amazing,? Bettini said.

?Now I won all the classic races except the Tour of Flanders but there?s time for that. This is a great day for me and for Italian cycling. All my team mates rode really well today and we played all our cards right.?

Bettini made a string of attacks and even went clear on his own on the final climb but still had the speed for the sprint and the quick thinking to follow the Spanish pair and an equally sharp Erik Zabel.

?The course was very fast but when I attacked I knew it would hard to stay clear on the descent. The team rode to set me up for the sprint but then when I saw the two Spanish riders go fast into one of the final corners I dived after them,? he said.

?I hit my shoulder on the barriers and I was scared of crashing but knew I had to risk it because the move was decisive. It?s Ironic because we raced hard all day and then we went clear in the final corner. One corner decided the race.?

Bettini dedicated his world title to his wife, family and everybody in the Italian team. It is the seventeenth time an Italian rider has won cycling most prestigious one-day race.

He is expected to wear his world champion?s jersey for the first time next Sunday when he rides the Zuri Metzgete race in Zurich, Switzerland.