|It would hardly happen. First because, as admitted by Lombardi himself, he
and Scirea are in the Italian squad exclusively to work for "boss" Cipollini.
And later as Italy's sprinter number two goes under a different name:
Alessandro Petacchi. Fassa-Bortolo's fastest man gave a display of his
skills and excellent form in the recent Tour of Spain, when he replaced
Cipollini - once the Lion King was back home - and took turns with Alessio's
Angelo Furlan in dominating the sprints, usually at the expense of Erik "Lombardiless"
Zabel. As for Furlan, after watching his most recent performances in the Tour of
Spain one might be understandably surprised at not finding his name in the list.
But rather than being "excluded", the man reportedly chose not to join the party
this year. He thought that the presence of another sprinter in the line-up could
be source of further problems and tactical dilemmas for a squad trying to find
more unity and learning to act as one, so he asked Ballerini not to be selected
among the "fab 14". Furlan is young (born on the 22nd of June of 1977) and
should he continue his Vuelta's winning ways, he'll be definitely given a
second (and third, and fourth ...) chance in years to come.
Courtesy of fassabortolo.com
So Furlan won't be there, but Petacchi will. And in some interviews the man
gave after his Vuelta stage victories, he didn't sound too happy to be regarded
only as Cipo's domestique ("I hope I 'll be able to ride my ownrace" he
reportedly said), and maybe his conduct could create some problems inside the
team. But common sense should come first, and the man from La Spezia be used as
alternative solution to Cipollini only if the "Lion King" had a bad day, or be
just another member of the "Azzurro" train in case of a massive sprint featuring
Super Mario too. Ballerini's statements echoed these speculations: "We'll
need to ride AS a team, and FOR the team. Each move must have a final goal.
Petacchi is a clever man and (knows that) in favourable conditions may have
green light, otherwise he'll be working for Mario. I made it clear to everyone:
in a bunch sprint, it's all for one, and you know who "one" is. Team unity will
be fundamental in that case".
Iit seems like there aren't many chances for Petacchi, although the doors are
not completely closed to him. And perhaps there are some (even slighter) chances
for Fabio Sacchi too: certainly the "leopard-headed" guy from Milan is
not as fast as the two sprinters I just talked of, but he in the current season
as he has alreaday proved he knows how to win. And more than once. The Saeco's
sprinter should logically do the chasing and/or leadout work at Zolder, but
perhaps eventually circumstances might be favourable, and Sacchi be allowed to
try his luck in a final sprint. You should never take things for granted.
Courtesy of saeco.it
And it's not even cast in stone that the race must be decided in a bunch
sprint. The course is long, and cycling history is filled with seemingly easy
races getting harder and harder due to the riders' attitude. With such a threat
as Mario Cipollini around, it's difficult to believe that the rest of field may
just do a 260-km-long leadout work to take the fastest man to a final sprint
(and the top of the podium).
So expect some early moves and a big battle, with several squads able to
start the fireworks: France (with the perspective of Jaja ending his career in
such a stunning way), Belgium (with the perspective of Museeuw taking an
historical title in front of a huge crowd of his fans) and Holland (they can
surprise even without Dekker) could get their men in a winning breakaway and
avoid a dangerous "pro-Cipo" massive sprint. Even the Spanish squad, with Freire
looking inferior to Cipollini, could be more eager to get his unique leader in a
break where he could easily outsprint the others, just like it happened in 1999,
instead of waiting and probably losing to Mario.
How could Italy prevent this from happening ? The usual way: by marshalling
the peloton, marking the other squads' big names, and chasing hard to bring any
eventual, significant break. The "Squadra" has got men strong and
accomplished enough for this task. Mapei's Davide Bramati and Luca
Scinto are domestiques with good legs and a lot of experience, which could
be much useful in the race. They should be marshalling the peloton and prevent
the formation of dangerous breakaways, as well as be able to chase hard to
rejoin the leaders.
More or less the same things can be done by another veteran of the peloton
Gianluca Bortolami. The 33-year-old from the Milano province, World Cup
winner in 1994, didn't get a great season start, but seems he has finally found
back the right condition now, as his recent performances (a second placing at
Coppa Bernocchi in late August, an astonishing victory in GP Beghelli, formerly
known as Milano-Vignola, a few days ago) demonstrate.
In his latest interviews the 2001 Tour of Flanders winner "offered" his
contribution to the Italian team, and the proposal was accepted. True that in
the last period Bortolami has practised more his skills as a winner rather than
domestique, and Italy doesn't need another man just going for the gold, but he
explicitely promised he'll be taking care of the "chasing work", and his huge
experience may prove useful on October the 13th. Bortolami is also looking for a
new contract for next year (a situation common to many a rider in the Italian
peloton), better if in a team letting him race his favorite contests, the
Classics of the North: a further motivation to do well in this one-day race
disputed under the glance of many team managers.
Courtesy of saeco.it
In spite of the presence of all these guys, an eventual breakaway could make
it to the end. So what should Italy do ? Well, that's what Danilo Di Luca
and Paolo Bettini are there for. The former has had quite a troubled season,
especially in the first part. The dramatic crash at Milan-San Remo, the absence
at Giro d'Italia, his team's exclusion from the Tour de France due to Gilberto's
Simoni fake doping case. But after all these misfortunes, seems like it may be
redemption time for the 26-year-old from the Abruzzo region. A time started with
a stage victory in the Tour of Spain, where he opened Zabelís losing streak at
the hands of Italian riders. A streak that Italians, Di Luca included, hope may
continue in Belgium.
To Page 4