Paolo Bettini has again defended his selection for the world championships in Geelong and insisted that Italian riders’ failure to win a classic for the second consecutive season is not a cause for undue alarm.
2010 saw Bettini take charge of the Italian national team after the death of his friend Franco Ballerini and he guided Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) to 4th place in his first Worlds as manager in Geelong.
“You can criticise Pozzato because he wins less than is hoped, but between his victories and his podium placings, Pippo remains our point of reference,” Bettini told La Gazzetta dello Sport at the Gran Gala in Conegliano on Sunday.
The Tuscan also defended bringing riders such as Luca Paolini (Acqua & Sapone) to Australia and denied that friendship and past reputation were more significant factors in his selection policy than current form.
“It’s not true that I called up my old friends to the national team,” Bettini said. “A guy like Maldini played right to the end [for the Italian football team], not because he has a famous name, but because he still had a lot to offer.”
Bettini’s football metaphors continued as he pondered the fact that just two Italian teams have ProTour status: “It means that too few Italian riders are playing in the Champions League and you pay for that at the Worlds.”
Nonetheless, Bettini was philosophical about the overall state of Italian cycling, feeling that the glass is half-full, in spite of the fact that a second successive season has passed without a classics victory going south of the Alps.
“If life is like a wheel, cycling is even more so. You go through different moments and phases,” Bettini said. “Up to two years ago we were stronger in the classics and less so in the stage races. Now it seems that the opposite is the case.
“We haven’t won a classic in two years, but the guys are still up there, they believe, they fight and they get good placings. And in the meantime, Ivan Basso has won the Giro again and Vincenzo Nibali triumphed at the Vuelta.”
One Italian rider with the talent to be a contender in both stage races and the classics is Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini), but Bettini is adamant that the 2004 Giro winner is now a man for the classics.
“I hope Cunego decides what to focus on,” Bettini said. “I think it would suit him to prepare for the Ardennes classics and also be competitive in Hamburg and, why not, San Remo. I won’t add the Tour of Lombardy, because he’s already won it three times.”
Remarkably for a rider of his talent, Cunego went the entire year without winning a single race, and he last month revealed to Cyclingnews that his 2011 season would indeed be built around the classics and that he will forgo the Giro d’Italia.