Cassani has only been in the job since January, after Paolo Bettini stepped down at the end of last year. While he is keen to get his career as the national coach off to a good start, he admits that there is one very strong contender in the way of that illusive rainbow jersey.
“For me, Sagan,” Cassani responded instantly, when asked by the website Esciclismo who was the most likely to take the honours in Ponferrada. Although, the former rider said it wouldn’t be easy for Sagan.
“He has the handicap of not having a strong enough team to control the race in the past, and the adversaries will not be five, but 25. For us, without doubt, that will be an advantage because, between them, I hope there will be several Italians."
Aside from Sagan, Cassani pipped Spain’s Alejandro Valverde and Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert as potential condenders.
Despite having some of the world’s best cyclists, Italy have failed to take a medal in the mens road race since 2008, when Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego took the top two positions.
Last September, Italy only claimed one medal, in all events, at their home world championships in Florence. That came through the efforts of the 19-year-old Rosella Ratto in the women’s road race, when she finished third.
“I hope that we can do better in September,” says Cassani. “Italy have always had an optimal squad, but since 2008 we haven’t had any medals. Partly to do with bad luck, like what happened to Vincenzo (crashing on the wet roads), but nor is it easy because we have had so many years without winning one of the monuments.”
While his riders are working towards their first big goals of the season, Cassani headed to Spain. Armed with a new Pinarello Dogma, a video camera and an altimeter-GPS, he tackled the course his nine men will face in September. He was joined by under23 coach Marino Amadori and junior coach Rino Condido.
After two laps of the finishing course, Cassani gave his assessment. "I expected a little harder," he said. "This is a route for climbers, but also for pure sprinters."
“The first climb is long, but not difficult, and it has a 5% slope. In the group, on the wheel, it will be fine. The second is harder, at 8%, but short. It reminds me of the circuit Benidorm 92". The descent is not difficult, there are just a couple of tricky corners. You will be able to to recover."
Out of interest, the 1992 World Championships were won by the Italian Gianni Bugno.
The Italian team are set to return later in the year with their riders, to make another recce of the course. Astana rider, Vincenzo Nibali is likely to be the leader when the road race takes place on September 28.