World champion Paolo Bettini is not riding the Tour de France but July is likely the most important month of his season and perhaps of his career.

Sometime during the Tour de France Bettini will announce his plans for the future; deciding whether to retire at the end of the season as he announced after winning the Olympic road race in Athens, or to continue for another season in 2009.

Bettini has become tired of answering questions about his future in recent months but admitted before the Bettini Day ride in Tuscany on Sunday that time is running out and he will soon have to decide on his plans for the future.

The 34 year-old double world champion has had offers from several teams, including Quick Step, but explained that any decision about his future is also influenced by the needs of his family, the pressures of racing and winning at the highest level and his personal motivation after 12 years as a professional.

Before ending his career, Bettini has set himself two more major objectives: the Olympic road race in Beijing and the world championships in Varese in late September.

?It?d be great to win a third world title and then announce I?m going to retire,? Bettini jokes after riding with journalists on his home roads around Bibbona in Tuscany, the same roads featured in the latest issue of Health and Fitness magazine produced by Cycling Weekly.

?Nobody ever won three world titles and it?d be a great way to bow out. Unfortunately it?s not such simple decision. I?ve got to decide soon and at the latest during he Tour de France because teams have to make plan for the future now.?

?It?s not an easy decision for me because I started cycling when I was seven years old. When you decide to stop, that?s it. I don?t want to get it wrong because I know when I make the decision I can?t go back on it.?

?Six or seven teams have made me offers, finding a team is not a problem, if I want to race I think I can find someone to offer me a bike, a jersey and a contract. However if I do race for another year I can?t really imagine doing it with any other team except for Quick Step. I?ve been with them for ten years and I can?t forget what we?ve done together and what they?ve given me.?

?It seemed like a new project was going to happen at one point (Bettini refers to plans for a new Tuscan team sponsored by the Monte Paschi di Siena bank) but then it fell through. I?ve talked to Patrick Lefevere and I could stay with Quick Step and perhaps not as a rider.?

?I could also race for another year but I know that even one season would long and hard. Physically I could race for five years but it?s not only the racing, it?s also about the pressure and the responsibility of being a team leader. I know I lose races a lot easier now than I did three years ago. There younger riders coming through who are hungrier than I am??

TWO FINAL MAJOR OBJECTIVES

Bettini is currently recovering from his constant but unsuccessful efforts to win a stage at the Giro d?Italia. He has ridden the Giro in the rainbow jersey for two years and finished second several times, but never managed to win a stage. On Thursday he will fly in a Italian jet fighter before beginning his serious training.

He will not ride the Tour but will try to peak for the Olympics by riding the Italian national championships in June 29, the Tour of Austria (Aug 6-13), the Tour de Wallonie in Belgium (Aug 26-30) and the Clasica San Sebastian (Aug 2). He will ride the Vuelta Espana in September to prepare for the world championships.

?I?ve decided to take a risk with my build-up to the Olympics and not with the world championships,? Bettini explains.

?Anything can happen in the Olympic road race because there are teams of five, with mostly team leaders and so it?s a very open race. The 220km distance also means anything could happen and anyone could win. The world championships isn?t like that and so it?s important to get it right by riding the Vuelta.?

The world championships could also be important because it could be his last big race before retiring.