Paolo Bettini has criticised his former Mapei teammate Andrea Tafi’s plans to race Paris-Roubaix next year at the age of 52, saying that the Italian should not take the place of a young rider on the roster of a professional team.
Tafi, who won Paris-Roubaix in 1999 and the Tour of Flanders in 2002, retired from cycling in 2005 after a 16-year professional career. Bettini spent four seasons alongside his fellow Tuscan at Mapei, between 1999 and 2002. In an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport on Wednesday, Bettini said that Tafi should leave the stage to the current generation of riders.
"To Andrea, I say: 'I hope you don't ride, you need to do other things in life at 52 years of age,'" Bettini said. "His actions have drawn attention from the media, but it would be a lot better if he thought about giving an opportunity to a young rider. By doing this, he is robbing somebody’s place."
Earlier this month, Tafi claimed that he had found a team for 2019, though he told Het Laatste Nieuws that he was as yet unable to announce it publicly. In a recent interview with La Gazzetta, UCI president David Lappartient suggested that Tafi would sign for Dimension Data, though the South African team has since declared its 2019 roster is complete.
The 44-year-old Bettini continues to lead corporate rides for various sponsors but does not share Tafi’s desire to return to competition at any level. "I like to stay fit with sport, but I don't live it in a competitive way anymore," Bettini said. "Putting in an effort is good. Like Alfredo Martini used to say, it frees your mind. But I know I don't need to prove anything to anyone."
Bettini spent three and half years as manager of the Italian national team before leaving the post at the end of 2013 to try to help establish a new WorldTour squad planned by Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso, a project that never got off the ground. Bettini has not worked with a professional team since and said that he had little wish to do so given the current structures of cycling.
"Even if I had a sponsor with €30 million, what certainties does this sport give me, with these rules?" Bettini said. "I go to a company and the team then rides the same races as a team that only invests €2 million. How to I explain that to them? There are races where all the categories are mixed together, from WorldTour to Continental teams, where the world champion Valverde competes with my nephew Francesco, with rules – including health rules – that are different. It shouldn’t be like that."