Worst finish for Azzurri since 1983
The post mortems will begin in earnest in Italy on Monday morning and extend over the weeks and months to come after Daniele Bennati lost track of his lead-out and floundered to come in 14th behind Mark Cavendish in the UCI World Championships on Sunday. It was the squadra azzurra's worst placing in the Worlds since Giuseppe Saronni finished 17th in Altenrheim all the way back in 1983.
Luca Paolini offered his snap judgement of the Italian performance after he rolled to a halt in the pits shortly after the finish. The veteran fulfilled the duties assigned to him beforehand by infiltrating a threatening mid-race break but his team made little further impact as an attacking force, save for a couple of short-lived digs from Giovanni Visconti which quickly fizzled out.
"I'd give us a seven, maybe a seven-and-a-half out of ten, because I heard there were problems in the train in the last kilometre, and this didn't allow us to lead out a clean sprint for Bennati," Paolini told Cyclingnews. "Before that we tried to make the race a little more stretched. Maybe we were lacking another man with me in the break, but when we get back to the hotel we'll have a meeting and weigh it up."
The Italian federation's decision to bar riders who have served suspensions for doping offences from lining up meant that there was a youthful feel to coach Paolo Bettini's team. Paolini, who was investigated as part of the Operazione Athena doping inquiry but has never been sanctioned, was the one the few riders with significant Worlds experience. Italy's regista, or road captain, in recent seasons, the 2004 bronze medallist was assigned a more active role in Denmark, as the Italians sought to put Cavendish and the British team under pressure.
"This year I did the Vuelta and that gave me the sharpness and the form to risk a little more," Paolini said. "I felt really good and I got in a move that we were hoping might even have put Cavendish's men and the other sprinters in a bit of crisis. We were looking to make them expend as much energy as possible but they were too strong. The strongest man won today."
Paolini was joined on the attack by two riders each from France and Belgium, (Yoann Offredo, Anthony Ravard, Johan Van Summeren and Olivier Kaisen), with Australia's Simon Clarke policing affairs for Matt Goss.
"We had the same intentions as the French and the Belgians, so we got on fine, but then there were other riders who didn't collaborate because they thought they had quicker riders behind," he said.
After Paolini et al. were brought to heel, however, there was precious little sign of the Italians at the head of the bunch as the British squad wound up the pace to shut down a brace of late moves featuring Thomas Voeckler (France). Bradley Wiggins stretched out the race still further on a final lap before Italy's putative lead-out train was derailed on the approach to the drag to the line.
"We fell apart on the last roundabout," Manuel Quinziato explained. "In front we went on the outside and Bennati was left shut in on the outside. It all finished there."
"I got bottled up," Bennati admitted. "We didn't manage to organise ourselves and it's a pity. I'm not a sprinter like Cavendish who can manoeuvre alone. I need to be led out."