Hailing from a nation whose cycling culture is laden with nostalgia, it was perhaps inevitable that Moreno Moser would be the centre of much attention at the Italian team’s final press conference ahead of the world championships road race in Valkenburg.
The Liquigas-Cannondale neo-professional is the nephew of the former world champion Francesco Moser and is blessed with an acceleration that the Italian press has compared repeatedly to the famous sparata that carried his uncle’s fierce rival Giuseppe Saronni, to the rainbow jersey in Goodwood in 1982.
Yet for all that history weighs upon Moser, the prominence of his position in this Italian team is due in part to his federation’s desire to distance itself from the ghosts the recent past. Riders who have been suspended for doping or implicated in doping investigations have been barred from selection and, consequently Paolo Bettini’s team has a largely youthful air.
While Vincenzo Nibali is the natural leader of the Italian team, Moser is set to be handed a significant degree of freedom alongside Diego Ulissi. Still only 21 years of age, however, Moser admitted that he is unsure if he has the endurance necessary to last the course over 267km.
“That’s potentially a problem and it’s the reason that I’m not putting too much pressure on myself,” Moser told Cyclingnews in Maastricht on Thursday.
“I’ve only done one race that long before, the Italian championships (where he finished third). I felt really good there but obviously the level is different here so we’ll see.”
As for his role on Sunday, Moser said that nothing would be set in stone before the team sits down for its final tactical meeting on the eve of the race. In public, Bettini has called on his younger riders to enjoy the occasion by playing an active part in the racing, and Moser is simply determined to bank experience for the future.
“I could have a bit of freedom, but I don’t know yet,” Moser said. “I’ve never ridden the Worlds and right now I can’t say I know how to interpret the race. Whatever I do should be viewed in a more important context than winning or losing.”
A striking run of results in 2012
Moser has assembled a striking run of results in 2012, including victories at Trofeo Laigueglia, the Tour of Poland and Rund um den Finanzplatz, and recently placed second at the GP Montréal. Although Moser failed to make an impact when he raced at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the spring, he did gain an insight into racing in that corner of the world.
“It’s not an extremely difficult course in terms of climbing, but that might make the racing itself a bit more difficult,” he said. “You’ll have to ride flat out quite a lot just to stay in front, and on narrow roads too. Everybody will want to be up there, and that’s not easy at all.”
Vincenzo Nibali leads the Italian squad on Sunday, but Moser was honest in his assessment of his Liquigas-Cannondale teammate’s chances, admitting that there are a number of riders that he needs to shed before the Cauberg if he is to have a chance of victory.
“We haven’t spoken about the specifics of the race but if Vincenzo gets to the finish with a rider like Valverde or Gilbert, he can’t fight for the win really, so we need to make sure it’s a hard race,” Moser said.
While Nibali freely admits that he lacks the explosiveness necessary to make the difference on the Cauberg, the subsequent drag towards the line seems an ideal platform for a Moser sparata even if the youngster was at pains to downplay expectations.
“In theory, it’s almost a summit finish and if a break goes clear over the top of the climb, it might go all the way,” Moser said, before adding, “but after the Cauberg there’s a headwind and that will be an obstacle to a lone attacker."
Regardless of the outcome, Moser's selection for the Italian team, not to mention the furore that surrounded his omission from the line-up for the Olympic Games, is proof positive of the huge progress he has made in 2012.
"At the beginning of the season, some people were saying to me, 'Oh, the Worlds are in Valkenburg, you might get to go.' But it seemed so long off that I laughed it off and deep down I didn’t believe it. Little by little, though, it became a bit of a reality, to such an extent that I wasn’t surprised to be called up. I think I’ve deserved it."