Paolo Bettini has officially refused to confirm he will join Fernando Alonso's team after resigning as the Italian national coach but has hinted he will be involved in a major new project in 2014, saying he will "stay in cycling as part of a "very important, ambitious high profile project, that has an initial duration, with me, of five years and that includes a major investment."
Bettini replaced the late Franco Ballerini as the Italian head coach in June 2010 but decided to quit when the offer of the new role was confirmed.
"What had just been a contact and a meeting suddenly turned into a concrete offer and so I found myself at a crossroads," Bettini revealed to Gazzetta dello Sport.
"It was a long and difficult decision. I took a week to reflect on things, considering every aspect with my heart and to study the details. Then I called Di Rocco and told him of my decision."
Some kind of announcement concerning Bettini's possible role in the Alonso team is possible on Tuesday January 7 but until then he refused to give any details. If he joins Alonso's team, Bettini is likely to have a senior role, perhaps managing the technical and sporting aspects of the team, rather simply being a directeur sportif.
"Out of respect for my new partners, I can't say anything, except that I'll stay in the world of cycling," Bettini said.
As a rider the 39-year-old Tuscan won two world titles in 2006 and 2007, and an Olympic Gold in 2004, but he was unable to replicate that as a coach. Two fourth places was the closest he came to success as Italian national coach. Bettini is set to be replaced by David Cassani in the role.
If he does join Alonso's team, Bettini will have to adhere to some kind of zero tolerance policy when signing riders for the 2015 squad. It's not clear if riders and staff will be asked to sign declarations to confirm that he's had no part in doping in the past. Bettini initially refused to sign the UCI Code of Ethics in 2007, where rider's signatures stated they had no part in the Operación Puerto scandal.
The former world champion isn't the only person to have been linked to the team as Alonso begins to build his managment structure.
Kiko García, former professional and European marketing manager for Oakley, was signed to the team as an advisor when Alonso bought Euskaltel-Euskadi's WorldTour licence in September. He believes that caution should be exercised when discussing names linked to the team. “The only name that is confirmed in this project is Fernando Alonso,” he explained to Marca.com. “Nothing is confirmed right now and I believe that journalists should be prudent.”
The names of José Luis [Chechu] Rubiera and Javier Pascual Rodríguez have also been connected to the team.
While Alonso doesn't have any riders or staff confirmed he's already spoken to Vuelta a España and Tour de France organisers. He's also reportedly secured the backing of a Dubai sponsor for five years. The Spaniard is looking to have the major aspects of his team finalised before the start of the new Formula One season on March 16.