By Jean-François Quénet in Stuttgart
On Thursday evening, the organizing committee of next year's World Championships in Varese, Italy, invited 400 members of the cycling family for a gala dinner. After the traditional speeches by politicians and high profile people in charge of the event, it was a big surprise when the complete Italian national team came on stage under a thunder of applause. Freshly 'banned' Danilo Di Luca was introduced as the team's hero.
He was the first to be given the microphone. "I'm not gonna race on Sunday, so I'll win the world championship next year," he promised and received a huge cheer from the crowd. Paolo Bettini was the next person to speak and he said with a large smile: "I haven't seen the course of the Worlds here yet because I've been busy with other stuff…" The audience's laughter filled the room, and most showed compassion for the defending world champion. Bettini had to deal with the accusations of Patrik Sinkewitz, which the former T-Mobile rider later denied, and the declarations of German politicians who wanted to keep him away from Sunday's road race.
It was even more of a surprise to see Pat McQuaid in attendance with the Squadra Azzurra as a guest of honour. "Italy loves cycling, cycling loves Italy," the president of the UCI said loud and clear. He also stated that he's very "happy to organize four world championships in Italy with Renato Di Rocco next year." Di Rocco is the president of the Italian federation who is leading the split against the UCI with the French, Spanish and Belgian federations.
As Varese 2008 honoured former Italian world champions such as Francesco Moser, Vittorio Adorni and Maurizio Fondriest, McQuaid gave "a warm welcome to Stuttgart for Gianni Bugno". The winner of the Worlds road title in Stuttgart in 1991 has been declared a persona non grata by the local organization in relation to comments about doping. "Gianni, you'll be more than welcome in Varese next year," Di Rocco added.
But nobody expected Marco Reguzzoni to be a part of the show. The president of the province of Varese decided to join the stars on stage, he took the microphone and asked McQuaid to "reduce the ban of Ivan Basso because we want our champion from Varese to take part in the world championship race in Varese." Basso is banned until October next year.
As the speech was in Italian, McQuaid was left with no reaction. In May this year, the UCI president went to Italy at the start of the Giro and protested against the Italian nationalism and the media support in favour of Basso that goes against the anti-doping fight. It was a huge promotion of a national event, regardless of all these other circumstances. Such a spectacle one year in advance promises another great show in Varese next year.