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Italy Worlds Preview Page 3

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

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