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Bettini ready for role with Fernando Alonso's team

Stephen Farrand
January 7, 13:17,
January 7, 13:17
First Edition Cycling News, Tuesday, January 7, 2014
2007 Worlds: A none-too-subtle Paolo Bettini (Italy) takes aim at his critics as he wins his second straight road world championship in Stuttgart, Germany

2007 Worlds: A none-too-subtle Paolo Bettini (Italy) takes aim at his critics as he wins his second straight road world championship in Stuttgart,...

  • 2007 Worlds: A none-too-subtle Paolo Bettini (Italy) takes aim at his critics as he wins his second straight road world championship in Stuttgart, Germany
  • 2008 Worlds: Italy's Matteo Tosatto and Paolo Bettini approach the finish line in celebration mode in the knowledge that teammates Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego finished 1-2 on hoome soil in Varese

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Former world champion explains why he resigned as Italian coach

Paolo Bettini is in Madrid on Tuesday, ready to begin a new chapter of his career in professional cycling. After a successful racing career that included two world titles and a haul of major Classic victories, followed by four years as Italian national coach, Bettini is expected to be given a key role in the creation of Fernando Alonso's new team, which will debut in 2015.

Bettini has refused to give away any details on the new project but is expected to become a team manager, responsible for the technical and performance aspects of the team. It seems Alonso was impressed with the way Bettini ran the Italian national team and offered the Tuscan an opportunity that was too good to turn down.

"It all happened really quickly. We'd talked a little bit but it all happened and came to life between December and Christmas. It felt like a great train was passing by and so I decided to jump on it," Bettini tells Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview.

Bettini will be 40 on April 1 and six years after retiring from racing, he feels ready to make a comeback to day-to-day life at the top level.

"I've always made important decision about my career after speaking to my family," Bettini explained.

"I'm going to be very busy and I’ll be back on the road but after plenty of time at home, my wife and I agreed it was time to do something new. I'll be 40 in the spring and the idea that I'm getting 'old' in some way made me want to get going again and take on a new challenge.

"I feel like I'm making a comeback in the peloton in some kind of way or preparing for a new world championships. We'll be starting from scratch and building something special. It's an innovative, ambitious project. That's what convinced me to accept the role, to roll up my sleeves and jump back into the world of professional cycling full time."

A new era for professional cycling

Bettini feels professional cycling is on the cusp of a new era. An era that is somehow shaking off the doping problems of the past and attracting new sponsors, new team owners and managers, and, more importantly, new fans and new cyclists.

"It's good that there's the new Alonso project, that a businessman like Oleg Tinkov has bought Bjarne Riis' team, that Sky has invested so well and so heavily in cycling. We've also got new leadership at the UCI. Cycling is in a good place as the global economy recovers," he points out.

"If people and companies are getting on board and still love cycling despite everything that has happened, it proves that cycling will always be strong and confirms that the worst is behind us. I think the sport will grow rapidly in the future."

Learning from the mistakes of the past

Bettini raced as a professional from 1997 to 2008, winning major Classics and world titles almost every season between 2000 and 2008. He was never linked to any major doping scandals but raced during one of the darkest decades of the sport.

Alonso has talked of his team being built on a foundation of transparency and zero tolerance to doping. It is unclear if the team will take a rigid stance like Team Sky and insist riders and staff sign a letter declaring they were never involved in doping. Bettini prefers to look to the future and defends the right of the likes of Bjarne Riis and David Millar to stay in the spot and play a positive role rather than be ostracized.

"We've got to look to the future but also learn from the mistakes of past. I think cycling is doing that. I don’t know what kind of Truth and Reconciliation process will be done by the UCI but we've got to move forward," he said.

"It's difficult to find a perfectly fair solution because each case is complex and different in many ways.

“Riis confessed to doping and offered to give back his yellow jersey. That was a big step for him. He's a team manager now and has built a great team over the years. Millar confessed, served his ban and is back racing and is a great advocate for the sport. I think they're both doing their best for the good of cycling now. Why shouldn't they both be allowed to play a role in building a better cycling?"

Bettini is not sure if Lance Armstrong should also be given similar treatment, however.

"It's difficult to judge Lance but perhaps his situation is more complex," Bettini said. "I don’t want to judge his case. We never raced much together but he was very arrogant in the peloton. I don’t want to say anything else because it’s a complex subject and it's out of our control."

No regrets as Italian coach

Bettini has quickly been replaced by Davide Cassani as the Italian national coach, with just a brief statement from the Italian president Renato Di Rocco thanking him for his four years in charge of the Azzurri.

With a new project capturing his attention, he has no interest in criticising Di Rocco, despite rumours of tension between them and the lack of a long-term strategy for the Italian national teams.

"I've got to thank the Italian Federation and the Italian president Renato Di Rocco. They trusted me after the tragic death of Franco Ballerini and gave me a chance," Bettini said, turning the other cheek.

"I've learnt a lot while working with the Italian Federation. It's not easy to manage a team that doesn't exist for the rest of the season. I tried to do my best even if the results perhaps don’t reflect the good work we did. I could have done better in certain moments but we went close to winning medals several times with Pozzato in 2010, with Pinotti in the time trial in 2012, and in 2013 at home in Florence.

There was a lot of pressure on us but we had a really united team and if Nibali and Paolini hadn't crashed, things would have been very different."

The woes of Italian cycling

Bettini has abandoned Italian cycling for a more international project with Alonso. Many of the best Italian riders and staff have already made similar moves, leaving Italian cycling poorer than ever before. One of cycling's great nations now lacks the vision and funding to compete successfully in the WorldTour.

"Italian cycling is suffering financially but it's not only a financial problem. It's about plans and projects not being activated and implemented," Bettini said.

"Unfortunately some of the traditionally strong cycling nations have sat on their laurels and the success of the past. The new cycling countries like Great Britain, Australia and the others have overtaken us. We've known and talked about the problem for five or six years but we still haven't done anything. That's why other nations have overtaken us. We're perhaps slowly changing now but we've got a lot of catching up to do."

Bettini revealed that he tried to do his bit but has now thrown in the towel, giving up the prestigious but frustrating role of Italian national coach to play a key role in Alonso new team.

"Last March I presented a four-year project for Italian cycling that covered the Rio 2016 Olympics. I knew that money was tight in the Federation but it was based on ideas rather than big budgets," he explained with a hint of sarcasm and satisfied irony.

"I expected that I'd be offered a four year-contract to carry out the plan. It didn’t happen and I was given a one-year contract. Now I can only thank the Italian Federation, because if I'd been under contract perhaps I wouldn't have been able to accept the huge chance I've been given now."

FabiquesAnquetillara 8 months ago
I agree with him on Riis. Riis confesed as 1st of all of them, and unlike all others, he did not have to. He was not forced to do it, he did it on his own will. Never got any credit for that. On the contrary. Unlike many others who only confessed when it was their only option and afterwards they turned into "cycling messiahs". On the other hand, I would really like to know, if Bettini was just like rest of them in that era (especially given his results), or if he was 1 in the century kind of specimen, who in some cleanish times, would be like uber-Merckx. Provided team he was on, and his refusal of DNA testing claiming "human rights", I am not sure. but he was never dipped in any mud, that is true. Only he knows. But I would like to know too. Anyway...
TheFred 8 months ago
Very good point about Riis. For me--and maybe I am being delusional and overly idealistic--I'd like to see all from that era gone. It seems that everybody involved at the highest level of cycling during those days would have a permanently distorted perspective, one way or another.
Anonymous 8 months ago
being "uber Merckx" wouldn't necessarily be a good thing as EM was busted for doping multiple times.
FabiquesAnquetillara 8 months ago
I meant that if Bettini was clean, and most of his opponents were not, if that era would be cleanish (there is nothing like clean one), he would have been winning not cca 50% of races like EM did in his best years, but like everything. (sorry for long sentence, I hope it makes sense)
Hill Special 1980 8 months ago
not quite right about Riis, rumours and suspicions were swirling around him and his former Telekom teammates for a month before he confessed, he would have been exposed soon anyway, it wasn't out of the blue, check out his wiki page for details on that
FabiquesAnquetillara 8 months ago
there are rumours and suspicions about everybody all the time (and it was always like that). And backing up past rumours with fact that now these rumours have wiki reference is silly. that (above) is my opinion about Riis's confesion.
boombastic 8 months ago
honestly i do not believe that alonso project will last more than 2-3 years if ever.
bianchi1885 8 months ago
But for those 2 to 3 years, it likely pays much better than head of the Italian national cycling teams.
Tony M 8 months ago
Alonso's involvement may not extend beyond 2/3 years but the life of the team to be"will depend on the sponsors that Alonso has lined up. What are their cycling interests?
vassosa 8 months ago
He is an entrepeneur. His interests are: I invest money, I take more money. That relation is precisely what will determine that extension.
graemew 8 months ago
That's a bit unfair. He has a passion for cycling too. Look at what Gerry Ryan has done for the sport in Australia (businessman with a keen interest in cycling).
arlobike 8 months ago
Thank you ... the way some of these comments read, nobody ever makes a decision based on anything but money. I think it's more likely the people at the top of any profession got there because of a passion for the work itself, rather than the money they thought they could make from it.
TourOfSardinia 8 months ago
If Bettini jumped on board the project will probably quite long term - he is a serious guy.
Michele 8 months ago
Just until another bigger contract, ermm, sorry, I meant project will pass in front of him.
arlobike 8 months ago
It seems like ages since Bettini was racing, so I was surprised to read that he's a year younger than me. Now that makes me feel old. I would like to read more stories about Chris Horner and Jens Voigt so I can feel young again.
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MavicMoto 8 months ago
The story here is that Alonso has hired an Italian, not a Spaniard! Reportedly, the sponsors are all lined up. So does the Bettini hire mean they are Italian? Don't overlook the significance of Ferrari, Alonso's primary income source.