Italian national coach Paolo Bettini has come under pressure at home after his riders failed to work together in the hectic sprint that decided the elite men road race and ended with Mark Cavendish pulling on the rainbow jersey.
Daniele Bennati was the Italian team’s designated sprinter but he lost contact with the lead-out train that was supposed to protect him in the final kilometres. Bennati never likes fighting for position in a sprint and found himself blocked and unable to use his speed. He finished 14th, the worst result for Italy since Giuseppe Saronni finished 17th in the 1983 world championships in Altenrheim, Switzerland.
Saronni was one of the fiercest critics of the Italian team. 2002 world champion Mario Cipollini also spoke out, criticizing the Italian team for not understanding that the race was always going to end in a sprint. He questioned the idea of two lead out trains and suggested the riders had little experience of leading out a sprint.
Bettini shrugged off the calls for his resignation but was also critical of his riders.
“If someone wants my head, I’ll happily offer it. It’s not a problem and I can laugh it off,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport. “It’s not an easy job but I decided to take instead of sitting at home and just criticising. I’ve worked well with the guys and have been happy to do it.”
The former two-time world champion had still to analyse the race in detail but conceded that the Italian team had become derailed in the final kilometres and in the chaotic sprint.
“Last year in Geelong the team all gave 100% but then Pozzato failed to take his chance. This time something didn’t work as it should have done,” he said.
“Cavendish is the world’s number one and it’s a worthy world championship podium. But we just didn’t contest the sprint. The guys got lost and didn’t sprint and so we don’t know what we could have done. We’ll never know how close we were to the best riders. I told them to avoid the expected mess in the sprint. It was a messy sprint and we ended up right in the middle of it…”
“Bennati looked me in the eye and said he was sorry for not doing the sprint. He was blocked behind and told me he couldn’t get through. Viviani was supposed to sacrifice his chances more than he did but then was undecided how to sprint despite following orders.”
Two sprinter strategy
Knowing that a sprint finish would be chaotic, Bettini had divided the Italian team for the finale, allowing Sacha Modolo to ride his own sprint, in the hope he could take on Cavendish and the other big name sprinters if Bennati was out of contention. The young Italian was in the sprint but sat up, finishing 40th.
“Modolo missed a huge opportunity to do something,” Bettini said. “He was up there and could have split off from the others and tried to look for an opportunity. Greipel went past him. He said he sat up because he was touched by someone. I’ve still got to understand what happened.”
“A lot of people have realised that this was a real race,” Bettini pointed out.
“So-called ‘easy’ races like this are a lottery. The fact that Cancellara finished fourth proved it. He’s not exactly a sprinter. That means that even riders who aren’t fast finishers can go well after an ‘easy’ race. I’m just sorry that there wasn’t an Italian up there with Cancellara.”