By Jean-François Quénet in Johor Bahru
What's the best way for an average Italian rider to make sure he'll take part in the best races in his country? Well, joining a French team can speed up the process, because five of them are in the ProTour and very few of their landmark members would make the Giro a priority.
Francesco Bellotti, 26, hailing from Pescantina near Verona, may not have a win in the books yet, however he'll be leading the Crédit Agricole squad for the Tour of Italy this year after showing his GC abilities at the Le Tour de Langkawi. "Also in the young categories, I never won many races, he said. All of what I've done, it's been with a lot of suffering but I've had the satisfaction of reaching a few goals and every year I improve, that's very important for me."
He's thankful to Davide Boifava, who gave him a first opportunity to turn professional with Mercatone Uno in 2003 and he moved from Barloworld to Crédit Agricole last year, following the path of his good friend Pietro Caucchioli who isn't scheduled for the Giro this year. Christophe Moreau's departure to AG2R has given Caucchioli the team leadership at the Tour de France, and consequently, some more responsibilities to Bellotti at the Tour of Italy.
"I can't say I'll be the team leader but I'll have the freedom to attack and Saul Raisin and myself will be the climbers, Bellotti explained. Crédit Agricole is a nice team where I feel good. It might sound absurd but the truth is that there wouldn't be so much space for me in an Italian team where the concurrence would be bigger. This setup has an ideal dimension for me. Here I'm considered, I feel a lot of confidence and I can prepare myself with no pressure."
Currently lying third overall with three days to go, he has the potential to go one better because compared to his compatriot Gabriele Missaglia, he's a better rider against the clock. "I wasn't expecting such a good result," he said.
"Sometimes you work a lot for goals that you don't reach and now, I didn't even target a result and I'm close to getting it. The time I lost on David George, it happened the day we played for Raisin's stage win, that's where I lost the two minutes that are now impossible to get back. I'm more than happy with my trip to Malaysia. It's always good to begin a season with something nice. But maybe my form has come too quickly, so I'll take it easy when I'll get back to Italy next week."
Despite knee problems that ruined the early part of his 2005 season, Bellotti did well in the mountains of the Giro and finished 16th in the Tour de Suisse, then eighth in the Italian road championships. It's true that he improves every year - now he's showing joined Crédit Agricole not just as a companion for Caucchioli.