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Italy Worlds Preview Page 4

But the best alternative to Mario Cipollini as team leader is definitely provided by Paolo Bettini, who is in the best season of his career.

Courtesy of mapei.it
After spending years as loyal domestique of Michele Bartoli, the 28-year-old "Californian" (namely from a bunch of houses which goes under the name "La California" and is located in Tuscany), was "freed" after Bartoli's move to Fassa, and could finally show his talent. The results are well-known: multiple victories in World Cup races, the current Overall leadership in that prestigious competition and, last but not least, great performances in Italy's most recent races, where he proved - one more time - that he can attack and drop everyone in the final kms. (Giro del Lazio), as well as winning a small bunch sprint (Coppa Sabatini) and even beat Cipo at his own game (Stage 3 of Giro di Lucca, when the Cricket bitted the Lion King at the finishing line). It could be a sensational month for the Mapei rider, next year to the new Quickstep team: he has got the chance to take the World Title first, and win the World Cup after the Giro di Lombardia in late October. "Il Grillo" ("The Cricket", as Bettini is nicknamed) could become the second rider to make such a double.

Courtesy of danielenardello.it

And if Cipo will be enjoying the help of loyal domestiques Scirea and Lombardi, Bettini can't complain: the presence of the above mentioned Mapeis could assure him that he'll get all the support he needs. Unless, due to race dynamics, Bramati and Scinto are used for a pro-Cipo chasing work. But the Mapei contingent in the "squadra" is not limited to that trio; There's also Daniele Nardello. The man's excellent condition (was second to Bortolami in last Sunday's GP Beghelli) could be employed either to assist Bettini in a breakaway or help the team to keep the peloton regrouped. Solidarity among Mapeis at the World Champoinships is a proven fact after all (ask Paolo Lanfranchi for reference ...). But as the rider from Varese is not new to winning stages after getting into breakways, he too could have some (slim, as there are already too many other "alternate leaders") chances of going for the gold.

More or less the same things can be said about Fassa's Matteo Tosatto. The boy from the Veneto region made more than a winning move at right moment in past races (Giro stages in particular), proving that his tactical skills are very good. And they should be employed in the service of Cipo and/or Bettini, but the man's presence in any breakaway is not a remote possibility. Indeed both Tosatto and Nardello could be the right ones to get into some breaks and make other teams work. And as Ballerini said "You can expect everything from a man like Tosatto".

The last names belong to a couple of guys that, in their first year as pro riders, managed to get into the "fab 14": Lorenzo Bernucci and Daniele Bennati. They moved all the way from the U23 squad (both were part of the "young guns" team last year in Lisbon) to the "big" one. Their presence seemingly contrasts with Ballerini's trend to privilege older and more accomplished riders ("it's the route itself that requires experienced men, the coach said to Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper), but although "Ballero" has not yet told anything about it ("I prefer to do it later, as I want all of them to develop a feeling of being part of the team as long as possible") they should probably turn into the squadra's reserves.

The presence of Bernucci (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) in the list surprised many and even upset some (wondering why that youngster is there whereas other talented guys in good shape were left aside). But they apparently forgot that Bernucci will likely be just the reserve of the other reserve, and his chances to get onto his bike and race are close to zero, while some other, perhaps more talented guys (but perhaps not so useful to a team looking for unity) wouldn't accept so easily to play to reserve part and might stir new, not needed polemics.

Daniele Bennati could be one of the best sprinters around in years to come. In the meantime, he has already managed to make himself known by hitting the top 5 in some Vuelta stages, but especially becoming a fundamental wagon of Cipollini's "Zebrato train" which partially moved to the "Squadra Azzurra" for this World Championships. And should the 22-year-old rookie take the startline, he'd give all of his support to the Lion King. But compared to the "usual" Acqua & Sapone's leadout train, his "national counterpart" will be missing two basic members. Miguel Angel Martín Perdiguero, who will be a reserve in the Spanish team, ready to help Oscar Freire to take his third World Title in case of eventually being able to ride, and Guido "L' Americano" Trenti, that is going to make the U.S. team stronger in spite of causing some turmoil in the American cycling enviroment, where somebody (a minority) sounded more concerned in fielding an "ethnically pure" team, where everyone speaks a perfect English (like the Cycling World Championships were a grammar contest …), rather than a more competitive one.

Hearing some comments and looking at cycling-related discussion boards, seems Italian fans reacted quite in a mixed way to Ballerini's decisions. Some were happy at the presence of several A & S and Mapei riders, thinking that both Cipo and Bettini could get proper support. On the other side, some were regretting the absences of Michele Bartoli, Gianni Faresin and even Andrea Ferrigato (seemingly not of Davide "serial runner-up" Rebellin, maybe also because the man chose to stay out of the race the Furlan way). Faresin got into the roster many a time in past years, and is an accomplished rider, but he didn't have great results this year and his exclusion is not a crime to me. As for the Alessio's veteran, both the man's experience and the excellent condition he showed in the last one-day races could have earned him a well-deserved spot (and made Daily Peloton's writer Anita van Crey happy ...), but choices were different.

As to Bartoli, the absence of a such a well-known rider will certainly be one of the main discussion topics among cycling fans, and not just in Italy. The "Warrior" has got the experience Ballerini seemed to appreciate, and his ultimate performances (the Giro dell' Emilia triumph, a stage victory at Giro della provincia di Lucca) showed how strong he's in this period. But Mr. Ballerini, who must know Michele well, after being a teammate of his at Mapei, left him aside essentially for two "tactical" causes. The first is the kind of route, which according to the coach wouldn't suit him. And the second, maybe decisive reason was the danger of having too many leaders, combined to the need of riders ready to work for the appointed captains. Although these may sound just like speculations, Bartoli's past experiences of pretending to be "the" leader, complaining about what he called poor help by his teammates, and whining for one reason or another probably didn't help him to get into a squad currently needing the opposite.

So this is the Italian team for Zolder (the Elite Men Road race I mean; as for the ITT to be disputed the previous Thursday, neither Mapei's Filippo Pozzato, despite having an extremely successful season, nor even rookie Manuel Quinziato of Lampre-Daikin, who was the U23 European Champion in 2001 anyway - would likely match the likes of Botero, Millar, Aitor González, Bodrogi etc.), its roster, features, hopes and perspectives.

Many said this is a stellar team, the main favorite, but on Sunday, October the 13th everything may happen, and they will have to face a lot of powerful rivals, starting from the already mentioned France, Belgium and Holland, going on with Freire's Spain, and Germany featuring an Erik Zabel looking for revenge after his continuous defeats at the Vuelta (a bitterness only partially mitigated by the win in the points competition he easily took after Cipo abandoned the race). And finishing with the serious threat posed by the Aussies, a very strong bunch including the most dangerous rival for Mario Cipollini, aka Robbie McEwen, and other fast wheels. But if you take into consideration the rivalries among the Australian stars (O' Grady vs. McEwen vs. Graeme Brown) you'll see that turning a list of riders into"a team" is not an exclusively Italian problem.

"No matter who wins the World Championships, assuming it's one of us." FRANCO BALLERINI, September the 30th, 2002.

ITALIAN TEAM FOR THE WORLDS – ELITE MEN ROAD RACE

Daniele Bennati (Acqua & Sapone - Cantina Tollo) (*),

Lorenzo Bernucci (Landbouwkrediet - Colnago) (*),

Paolo Bettini (Mapei - Quick Step),

Gianluca Bortolami (Tacconi Sport - Emmegi),

Davide Bramati (Mapei - Quick Step),

Mario Cipollini (Acqua & Sapone - Cantina Tollo),

Danilo Di Luca (Saeco - Longoni Sport),

Giovanni Lombardi (Acqua & Sapone - Cantina Tollo),

Daniele Nardello (Mapei - Quick Step),

Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo),

Fabio Sacchi (Saeco - Longoni Sport),

Luca Scinto (Mapei - Quick Step),

Mario Scirea (Acqua & Sapone - Cantina Tollo),

Matteo Tosatto (Fassa Bortolo)

(*) = Likely reserve

ITALIAN TEAM FOR THE WORLDS – ELITE MEN ITT

Filippo Pozzato (Mapei - Quick Step),

Manuel Quinziato (Lampre - Daikin)

ITALY AT THE WORLDS – Best Results in the last decade (Elite Men's Road Race only)

1994: Second place (Claudio Chiappucci)

1995: Third place (Marco Pantani)

1996: Third place (Michele Bartoli)

1998: Third place (Michele Bartoli)

2001: Second place (Paolo Bettini)

The "Daily Peloton" will continue its coverage of the Italian team's build-up for the Zolder's World Championships with further news, interviews, commentaries and analysis.


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