Bettini celebrates Ballerini in Poland

Former professional rider Paolo Bettini made an appearance at stage two and three of the Tour de Pologne in his capacity as Italian national team manager and a friend of the late Franco Ballerini.

The Italian took up an invitation from race director Czeslaw Lang at the second stage in Dabrowa Gornicza ahead of the third day of the race, which paid tribute to Ballerini.

The two-time world champion was present at the finish in Katowice yesterday, the stage dedicated to his close friend and former national team manager, who died tragically on February 7 after an accident during a car rally.

"With Franco I became two-time world champion and I won an Olympic gold medal," said Bettini. "I miss him very much, but I feel his presence every day.

"When he was a coach of the national team it was all about the teamwork and as a new Italian national team manager I will try to continue his work in the same spirit."

Bettini came to Poland also to keep a close watch on some potential candidates for the Italian squad for the World Championship in Melbourne, which will take place from September 29 to October 3. "The Tour de Pologne is a great occasion to talk to some riders who aspire to participate in the worlds in Melbourne and to see what shape they're in."

One of Italy's best cycling exports has been busy watching the progress of other potential national team members for the world titles - he was seen catching up with his former teammate, ISD-Neri rider and current Italian national road race champion Giovanni Visconti at the Trofeo Matteoti over the weekend (pictured above right).

Last month he took Visconti and several other worlds candidates including Filippo Pozzato to Australia on a reconnaisance mission to scout the course for the men's road race on October 3.

Bettini didn't race in Poland throughout his entire career and consequently it's his first visit to the country. "I've heard many good things about this race from my colleagues. That it's very well organised and spectators are great - it's all turned out to be true," he said.

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