"No matter who wins the World Championships, as long as it's one of us.
It's important for the riders, the Federation, and Italian cycling as a whole
that, now more than ever, needs a prestigious victory to regain visibility and
"Bettini and Cipollini are two men currently in great condition, but with
different features. So we'll need to make the most out of our team according to
the race dynamics".
"This team is a bet for me too, and I think it can be a very good one".
All these sentences, pronounced by coach Franco Ballerini on Monday's
afternoon, right after the name list of the 14 riders (two reserves included)
that will be part of Italy's National Team for the Elite Men's Road Race at the
coming World Championships was released, perfectly represent the Italian state
of mind on the eve of a competition that could finally bring the title back to
Rome and surroundings after a 10-year period.
Ten years: too a long time for many countries, even more for a nation
steadily standing atop the relative UCI Rankings (with a wide margin over the
second too ...), and used to frequent wins in GTs, stage races, one-day
contests, World Cups, but NOT the World Championships. It makes an even bigger
impact as you notice that the contest I'm talking about is a one-day race and,
unlike other countries (Spain for instance) whose "cycling culture" is leaning
more towards longer competitions, Italy is a kind of "University" for one-day
races. Most regional Tours belong in this category, and the results got by
Italian riders in shorter competitions are a further prove of how strong they
are in these races. The numbers of the latest Spring Classics, with Italians
taking five races out of seven, leaving only two of them to Belgian archrivals
and nothing but some placings for the rest of the World, say it all.
But unfortunately for Italians, this domination of the Classics of the North
has not been recently followed by similar performances in the year's most
important one-day competition. The last time an Italian was seen with a gold
medal hanging around his neck (after the Elite Men's Road Race, of course) was
in 1992, when the vast majority of cycling fans haven't heard yet of a Texan
rider named Lance, and Gianni Bugno played a little trick on race favorite
Miguel Indurain (at the time uncontested Tour de France dominator) by taking the
title in "his" Spain.
Since then Italy got some silver and bronze stuff (see the statistics in the
last page of this article), but as for the most prestigious metal ... nothing !
¡ Nada ! Niente !. It was glory for some "superpowers" (Spain, France,
Belgium) as well as not exactly cycling-mad countries such as Latvia, but NOT
Italy. Not even hosting the World Championships on home roads for two times
(Sicily in 1994 and Veneto five years later) was of any help. Quite the
contrary: Italian riders and fans were forced to watch their French and Spanish
rivals all smiles while wearing the Rainbow Jersey: Luc Leblanc won in Agrigento,
and in 1999 Oscar Freire – a man from "the land of stage races" - came to the
"University of one-day races" and gave a cycling lesson to the local
How could it happen? How did the strongest and perhaps most accomplished
one-day racers miss the gold for such a long time? The first reason, well-known
among cycling fans worldwide, and never going out of fashion in recent years, is
related to riders' behaviour during the race. Riders often strong and talented,
but also featured by a selfish attitude preventing them to work for their mates,
and a frequent inclination to regard themselves as members of a Trade Team
FIRST, and only LATER as part of the "Squadra". As a result, sometimes
members of the Italian National squad ride against each other and in favour of
their "usual" team-mates occasionally wearing the jersey of another country.
The latest, most blatant example of such attitudes was given last year: when
Gilberto Simoni went on a solo breakaway during the final lap of the Portuguese
circuit, and opened a significant gap, his World title hopes were frustrated by
the peloton's chasing efforts started, and partially done, by a so-called
"team-mate", Paolo Lanfranchi, who moved to the front of the peloton to set a
fast pace while his compatriot was in the break. Afterwards Lanfranchi tried to
justify his conduct saying he didn't realize, and wasn't told Simoni was in the
lead, but there's one more detail against him: during the rest of the year
Lanfranchi was wearing the Mapei jersey, and after "Gibo" got caught (also due
to Lanfranchi's chasing work) the race ended in a small bunch sprint, with ...
two Mapeis taking the top places. What a coincidence, one might (quite
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