Racing on home roads after disappointing outings in Copenhagen and Valkenburg, expectations are high for the Italian team in the elite men’s road race at the world championships in Florence this weekend.
Paolo Bettini’s team is based in Montecatini Terme in the build-up to the big day, where a sizeable home media presence is poring over every detail of the squadra azzurra’s preparations for the big day, not least the identity of the nine starters on Sunday.
Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) was forced to abandon the Tour of Britain due to an early crash, but the reports emanating from the camp suggest that the Sicilian has done enough to convince Bettini of his fitness to start on Sunday.
The Italian team will be led by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), while the experienced Luca Paolini (Katusha) looks set to fulfil his familiar role of regista, or road captain. A bronze medallist in Verona in 2004 (and a silver medallist in the under-23 race in the same city five years previously) Paolini is set to line up in his tenth Worlds road race.
“I think our prospects are good,” Paolini told Gazzetta dello Sport. “We don’t just have one string to our bow. Nibali has some fast men in the team with him, and they’re necessary because you go up to Fiesole at 30-35kph and it’s not guaranteed that the climb will make the difference.”
The key tactic for Italy, Paolini believes, will be to place fast finishers in the early breakaways so as to force other teams to lead the chase behind.
“If we place some fast men in there, maybe for once, we won’t have the weight of the race,” Paolini said. “The break won’t easy to bring back, either. On this course, you’d use up three or four riders bringing it back. The team would be used up, so we have to avoid that.”
On Monday, the Italian team trained for two and half hours, albeit in relaxed circumstances. Led by Bettini himself, the sgambata, or loosener, brought the Italians to Lucca and back, and included a stop at the gelateria of former Saeco rider Paolo Fornaciari.
Never outdone with news from the Italian camp, Gazzetta dello Sport also revealed the rooming arrangements in Montecatini Terme. Time triallists Adriano Malori and Marco Pinotti are sharing a room, as are Astana teammates Nibali and Alessandro Vanotti. Paolini is rooming with his close friend Filippo Pozzato, Simone Ponzi with Ivan Santaromita, and Visconti is sharing with Giampaolo Caruso.
Diego Ulissi, Michele Scarponi and Rinaldo Nocentini have been forced to squeeze into a triple room, but this, Gazzetta assures us, is “the most fun room at the Worlds.”