Italian national coach Paolo Bettini has confirmed that Vincenzo Nibali will be the leader of the Italian team for the world road race championships in Florence.
Bettini was at the Giro d'Italia and saw how Nibali has matured into a team leader and Italy's most important rider. Nibali is not a true Classics rider and does not have a fast finish but Bettini believes he can lead and inspire the squadra azzurra with the pressure on the team to win the rainbow jersey in Italy.
"Nibali has completed a special chapter in his career and he can now go on to win the world title," Bettini told Gazzetta dello Sport after the presentation of the route of the world championships in Florence.
"He's developed gradually as rider over the years but has kept is feet on the ground, as a person and as a rider. He's become a team leader, while still staying the likeable young guy that we all known and like. The team was happy to ride for him in Valkenberg."
A hard course
Nibali was unable to match Philippe Gilbert on the final climb of Cauberg last September but this year's world championships is considered the hardest course since Sallanches in 1980, when Bernhard Hinault won the rainbow jersey.
Nibali saw the course in December while in Tuscany for an award ceremony. He is likely to study it in more detail next week when he returns to Tuscany to celebrate his Giro d'Italia victory with his friends and fan club at the amateur club where he raced after moving from Sicily.
"I know how determined Nibali is to do well in Florence. The other day, after he won the Giro d'Italia, I told him: 'Enjoy this moment, draw a line under everything and then we'll start thinking about the world championships'," Bettini said.
"My team for the 2012 worlds in Valkenberg was built around Nibali. He was the centre of the team despite the course not suiting him. You can imagine my plans for the Florence course."
The 272.5km race includes a 110km ride from Lucca to Florence and then 11 laps of the tough, two-climb circuit around Florence and the climb up to Fiesole. The climb is 4.3km long and climbs at 9%, while a short but steep climb comes just three kilometres from the finish. Nibali has already identified the 10% 200m section of the climb as the perfect point to make a late attack.
"I wasn't in Sallanches," Bettini joked. "But I think it'll be like Lugano in 1996."
Johan Museeuw won the professional title in Lugano, while Bettini finished in fourth in the Under 23 race, with Italian riders also filing the podium.
"The course is for riders who can climb well. The first part of the route (from Lucca to Florence) will be stressful, San Baronto is a real climb, passing through the centre of Florence will be spectacular but very technical."
"Vincenzo isn't fast in a sprint but he was third at Milan-San Remo and second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. I would have loved to have him with me in the team when I rode. I think Florence can be like Varese in 2008 which ended with a great team performance."
In 2008 Alessandro Ballan won the world title, after getting in the decisive group with Damiano Cunego and Davide Rebellin. This year's squadra azzurra is likely to include the likes of Moreno Moser, Luca Paolini, Diego Ulissi, Giovanni Visconti, Valerio Agnoli, Marco Marcato, Dario Cataldo and Salvatore Puccio. Filippo Pozzato could also be selected but Bettini warned he needs to win races to earn his place. Promises and placing are no longer enough.
"It's a delicate case and I'm going to speak to Pozzato. To earn his place, he's got to put some results on the table, placing aren't enough. He's at the bottom of the list and he knows it."