Paolo Bettini will have his first competitive outing as Italian team manager at the Giro del Veneto on 28 August. The recently-appointed commissario tecnico has been permitted to select an Italian national team to participate in the event.
The race will serve both as an opportunity for Bettini to cut his managerial teeth ahead of October's World Championships and as a chance for some members of the Italian peloton to stake their claims for a place on the plane to Melbourne.
Local hero and 2008 World Champion Alessandro Ballan is the stand-out name on Bettini's team sheet and he is accompanied by BMC teammate Mauro Santambrogio. Padova-born Alberto Ongarato (Vacansoleil) also gets a chance to don the blue jersey on home roads.
Outside of that trio, Bettini has opted to blood some young riders, perhaps with an eye on future championships. Among the young names to watch out for in Bettini's line-up at the Giro del Veneto are Riccardo Chiarini (De Rosa), Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas-Doimo) and, particularly, the much-heralded double world junior champion Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Farnese Vini).
"First of all, my thanks must go to the team managers and sponsors for their willingness to cooperate," Bettini said.
"In the past there have been very few opportunities for national teams to ride together outside of the major championships. One that springs to my mind is the race in Castelfidardo before the Athens Olympics. And we all know how that expedition ended," he smiled.
Bettini brought home the gold from Athens in 2004 under the stewardship of Franco Ballerini. One of the hallmarks of the late Ballerini's tenure was ability to build team spirit and ahead of those games, he brought his five-man team to the humble GP Fred Mengoni in Castelfidardo to ride together.
"In comparison to other sports, a cycling national team manager lacks the chance to gather young riders together and see how they operate without the pressure of formally calling them up to the national squad. This is a good opportunity," Bettini said.
The team in full is: Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas-Doimo), Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Riccardo Chiarini (De Rosa-Stac Plastic), Oscar Gatto (ISD-Neri), Alan Marangoni (CSF-Colnago), Alberto Ongarato (Vacansoleil), Mauro Santambrogio (BMC) and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Farnese Vini).