Besides this, there are more factors, all linked to riders' behaviour, that
may help explaining Italy's failures in recent World Championships. Probably the
absence of a bigger internal cohesion is also due to the lack of a REAL leader
with a strong personality, able to become the actual captain of a squad mainly
(or mostly at least) working for him. The likes of Bartoli, Simoni and
Casagrande are very good riders, but definitely not "legendary" ones; their
eventual World Championship victory would hardly go beyond the strictly
sport-related papers. That made/makes even more difficult for these guys(and the
national team coach) to get the loyalty of their one-day teammates, not so eager
to sacrifice themselves for such "minor" riders.
Then we might mention also a tendency towards "anarchy" often showed by some
Italian riders: during his last period as National team coach, even someone as
smart and experienced as Alfredo Martini., the man who led the "Squadra
Azzurra" to win many a World Title with the likes of Bugno, Argentin,
Fondriest etc., had his tactics often ignored by the boys on the bikes. Add some
bad tactical mistakes, like the ones made in Plouay during the Y2K edition (Bartoli
attacking on a slight descent ... from the front of the peloton, in what turned
out to be a pointless waste of energies, Casagrande making his move at the wrong
moment), and of course take into consideration the rivals' skills (some of them
at least - how couldn't anyone pay proper tribute to the likes of Armstrong,
Museeuw, Freire ?) and you may have quite a complete view of the reasons
preventing Italy from taking Gold in the last decade.
No wonder that the above mentioned "behavioural patterns" sharply contrast
with Italy's way of conduct during the last two successful rides in the early
90s. Both in Benidorm (summer of 1992, Gianni Bugno wins from Jaja) and Germany
(twelve months before, Bugno again), the squad complied with Martini's orders
and worked as one to help captain Bugno. And finding back the "spirit of the
early 90s" will be one of the main tasks to be accomplished by both coach and
riders in their build-up for the October 13th race.
And seems (big SEEMS) that this time there's enough room for optimism:
conditions to make their task not an impossible one are actually present, and
going under the name of Mario Cipollini. Although it might seem
paradoxical, given Cipo's age and impressive palmares, this year the Tuscan is
at his first serious world title bid. His previous seasons usually began with
the Spring Classics, continued with Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, and after
some one-day Italian competitions, often finished with a few Vuelta stages. But
this year Mario changed his plans: he rode a successful Spring campaign,
dominated the Giro sprints and skipped the Tour de France (in July even gave a
press conference to announce his retirement from cycling - but who was so naive
to really believe his words ?) before getting back on his bike at the Vuelta,
just to let others behind in all sprints he took part in, and pulled out of the
race after a few stages not to go on holiday but to continue his preparation
somewhere in Italy and France.
Courtesy of cyclingteam.org
And also seems (again - big SEEMS) that this time things are on Mario's side:
a World Championship route particularly appropriate for the fastest wheels of
the peloton, a sensational form (as he showed all through the season), and a
(Trade) Team made up of accomplished and/or talented riders who know well how to
do a leadout work for him. Even more: crowd favorite Cipollini is exactly the
kind of character, well-known also outside the cycling environment in Italy,
that you need for a World Championship win to become a "national event", and hit
the headlines in any mainstream media.
Last but not least, the man has got a strong personality (for instance - in
the famous Paris-Roubaix affair - he proved he's one of the few able to say a
big "non" to TdF boss Jean-Marie Leblanc), such that he could "assert his
authority" and get team-mates loyalty more easily than others. Even statistics
are on Cipo's side: in the current season he has got victories (Milan-San Remo,
Vuelta Stages) he never snatched before, and as an Italian adage say "non c'é
il due senza il tre" ("When it's happened twice, it will happen three
times"), so the fairheaded sprinter could complete at Zolder a sensational
hat-trick of "first times".
As the list of names chosen by Ballerini demonstrates, the national team
coach is perfectly aware of all this, and consequently appointed the "Lion King"
as ALMOST unique captain of the "Squadra Azzurra" for the Elite Men's
Road Race, besides finding a roster spot for many of his best domestiques too.
Courtesy of cyclingteam.org
Starting from Cipo's friend and most trustworthy ally: Mario Scirea.
The 38-year-old (!) has been a loyal team-mate and "personal" leadout man for
several years, also following his captain in the move from Saeco to Acqua &
Sapone-Cantina Tollo, and doing the same even when "SuperMario" pulled out of
the Vuelta and got back to Italy to continue his build-up for Zolder. Scirea has
played a significative part in many of Cipollini's victory.
And going on with Giovanni Lombardi. You may call it coincidence, but
after the 33-year-old from Pavia (although currently living in Madrid), Track
Cycling Champion in the 1992 Olympics, left Team Telekom to join the "Zebrato
crew" of Acqua & Sapone, Erik Zabel's number of victories dramatically dropped,
while Cipo's increased in an exponential way (and brand new ones came) despite
the Lion King was coming from quite a difficult and unsuccessful period. Both in
previous years and during the current season Lombardi has proved, by claiming
victories in Grand Tours and minor races as well, that when his captains are not
around, or not going for the win, he can add more stuff to his own palmares.
Could it happen again in Belgium ? Could Lombardi "benefit" from an eventual
Cipo's bad day and try his own chances ?
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