Italian coach Aldo Sassi has said he would like to work with Riccardo Riccò, believing the controversial Italian is an important rider in the sport, despite failing a test for CERA during the 2008 Tour de France.
Sassi is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor but is in Australia to promote the Centro Mapei coaching centre and see his riders compete in the world championships. He coaches Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso and Michael Rogers, and will work with Damiano Cunego and the Lampre team in 2011.
He told Gazzetta dello Sport he is intrigued about Riccò's potential, despite his ban for doping and difficult character.
"I think Riccardo is the best climber out there. He's important for cycling in both Italy and the world and we can't afford to lose him," he said.
"I think he's surrounded by people who don’t advise him very well. But I think it's very important we help him make a full rehabilitation. I've never spoken to him but I'd like to coach him and work with him closely; on a personal level, psychologically level and how he communicates with people and with the media. I worked on some of these aspects with Basso, especially the communication aspect."
Sassi has a clear stance against doping and insists his riders agree to blood volume testing to control if they use blood doping techniques. He is not scared to take a risk with Riccò.
"I know that I'd put my hard-earned credibility at risk but it’s too easy to take up a challenge when you've got nothing to lose. Sometimes you've got to put your neck on the line for something important," he said.
"If we don't do it by believing in this sport, how can we change things? I'm 51 and I don’t know how long I've got to live. I've got to direct my energy as well as I possibly can. I can’t waste it with people who aren't interested."
Freire is his favourite
Sassi has studied the road race course in Geelong and believes Cadel Evans has a chance of defending his rainbow jersey next Sunday but tips Spain's Oscar Freire as the favourite to win a fourth world title. Sassi worked with Freire when he was on the Mapei team between 2000 and 2002.
"It's not a course for sprinters like Cavendish and it could turn out to be a really selective race," he predicted.
"Evans has told me that it's possible to come through late in a sprint. The line through the last corner will be decisive, before the rising finishing straight."
"I think Cadel is going better than he thinks. But Gilbert is the big threat and Pozzato could be a contender if he has a good day. Unfortunately Italy is missing a rider like Bettini. As a result my favourite is Freire. It doesn't matter if he has a team to help him or not because he's able to use his instinct to take advantage of any situation."