Rider analysis of the Italian Worlds team

The 2013 UCI road race world championships is the 13th time Italy has hosted cycling major championships but surprisingly the first ever time they have been held in Tuscany, one of the heartlands of the sport in Italy.

The Italian women's team has won the world title four times in six years, but the pressure is on the men's team after several poor performances in recent years. Italy has not won the rainbow jersey since Alessandro Ballan won with a late solo attack in Varese in 2008.

Five years is far too long for the tifosi to wait, and Italy expects national coach Paolo Bettini to field a team that can win on home roads and restore Italian pride.

However, Bettini's biggest problem is that he does not have a Paolo Bettini type of rider in his team. He has selected nine quality riders for Sunday, but none have the full set of characteristics that are usually needed to win world titles. Bettini was tactically smart, could read a race, handle a hilly circuit and win the sprint at the finish. That is how he won in Salzburg in 2006 and in Stuttgart in 2007.

Bettini will be in the Italian team car and can only hope his nine riders make the race so hard that the likes of natural favourites Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert are dropped. He will need perfect performances from all nine of his riders.

Here we look at the nine Azzurri's characteristics and highlight their strength and weaknesses.

Vincenzo Nibali

Nibali won the Giro d'Italia and finished a close second to Chris Horner in the Vuelta a Espana. His success this year has earned him the role of designated team leader of the squadra azzurra, but in truth he has only an outside chance of victory.

Nibali is a great stage race rider but lacks a fast finish and has rarely won sprints. However, he does have the form and aggression to rip up the race in the final laps. Watch for him to attack in Via Salviati with two laps to go and then try to go away on the final lap with one or two other non-sprinters.

Filippo Pozzato

"Pippo" is arguably the best known Italian Classics rider and Italy's best hope if there is some kind of sprint finish amongst a group of riders. However, he is also infamous for missing out on the big occasions.

He has won Milan-San Remo but little else, gaining more Twitter followers and fans for his Monaco-based playboy lifestyle than his rich palmares. His links to Dr. Ferrari earned him a six-month ban last year, but he insisted it was only for training advice.

Florence is probably his last chance to be a Italian team leader and he seems to know it. He impressed in August to secure selection and confirmed his form at the recent Gran Prix Cycliste de Montreal in Canada.

If the road race is fast but turns out to be unselective, it will be up to Pozzato to step and deliver in a sprint finish for Italy. But can he beat Sagan or Gilbert? Miracles do happen sometimes.

Luca Paolini

"Il Gerva" is the Italian road captain and Bettini's brains in the peloton. The 37-year-old announced that this will be his 10th and final ride in the Italian jersey and promised to give 100% on Sunday.

He finished third in the 2004 Worlds in Verona behind Oscar Freire and Erik Zabel and still has a decent sprint. He's having his best season for a while and won a stage and wore pink at the Giro d'Italia. He rode the Vuelta to prepare for the worlds and is clearly motivated to do well. He could be a secret weapon for the Italian team.

Diego Ulissi

The Lampre-Merida rider is a former double junior world champion, he is from Tuscany and impressed at the recent Vuelta.

He's a professional since 2010 and could be Bettini's heir but is still only 24 and lacking experience. He's suffered in long races but seems to have extended his limits this year. He will still need to hide in the peloton for much of Sunday's 272km race and then try to emerge in the finale.

He could be the perfect rider to go away with Nibali in a small group and then win the sprint to the line.

Giovanni Visconti

The former Italian national champion has the skill set to win the world title but lacks consistency and so struggles to earn leadership stripes from Bettini.

He won two stages at the Giro and seemed reborn after two years of doubts and disappointment. He crashed out of the Tour of Britain and only scraped into the Bettini's 11-rider long list but seems to be gaining support within the Italian team for a protected role. Expect him to also go on the attack in a group in the finale.

Michele Scarponi

Scarponi has been involved in doping scandals, team problems and injury scares but keeps bouncing back.

He rode the Vuelta and missed out on several stage wins but it was enough to get him a place in the Italian team despite his past.

He has the climbing ability to handle the two climbs on each lap and will no doubt be asked to sacrifice any personal ambitions to ride for the team. He will go on the attack early or do a huge amount of chasing for Italy.

Rinaldo Nocentini

Nocentini is another of Bettini's favourites and offers years of world championships experience. He failed to land a place in Ag2r-La Mondiale's Tour de France team but proved his form in the Vuelta. He will be another grafter who can go the distance.

Ivan Santaromita

The current Italian national champion impressed when he beat Scarponi and Davide Rebellin to win the tricolore jersey in June. He is extremely loyal a good climber and team worker. He will be a reliable part of the Italian team, and Bettini knows will not sell out to trade team loyalties.

He is more of a climber than a Classics rider but can play out a vital secondary role. Orica-GreenEdge has been smart to sign him for 2014.

Alessandro Vanotti

Vanotti is Vincenzo Nibali's closest domestique and will continue his role at Astana in the Italian team, protecting and looking after Nibali throughout Sunday's race. He last won a race in 2007 but his work will precious on Sunday. Just don’t expect or ask him to win the world title. That's up to his "capitano" Nibali.

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Stephen Farrand
Head of News

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.