Paolo Bettini has responded to Mario Cipollini’s criticism of the Italian team that he has selected for his first world championships as national coach. Cipollini told Cyclingnews on Wednesday that it was an error not to include a sprinter such as Daniele Bennati (Liquigas-Doimo) but Bettini refuted the claim.
“I’d advise Mario to come and see the course,” Bettini told Gazzetta dello Sport after his team’s first training ride on the finishing circuit. “I didn’t make any gifts to anybody. Everyone who is here has shown form.”
Bettini felt that both the nature of the route and Bennati’s current form weighed against him. The sprinter had accompanied Bettini, Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Giovanni Visconti (ISD-Neri) and Luca Paolini (Acqua & Sapone) on a reconnaissance trip to Geelong in July.
“Bennati came here to do that test at his own expense, because he really wanted to go to the Worlds,” Bettini explained. “But at the Vuelta he wasn’t in super form. I could have brought him to cover my back but then I would have had to have tried to make the race neither too hard nor too easy.”
Cipollini also drew comparisons between Bettini’s team and the aging squad sent by Marcello Lippi to defend Italy’s World Cup in South Africa in June and perhaps unwittingly, Bettini echoed one of his football counterpart’s oft-repeated defences of his selection. “I don’t see any riders left at home in Italy who are superior to these,” he said. “I don’t deny that I have picked some riders that I am friendly with, but nobody was certain of his place.
“It’s better to risk losing by believing in a project, as Ballerini taught me,” Bettini said. He took over from the late Franco Ballerini as Italian commissario tecnico in June.
The two-time world champion Bettini has repeatedly stated that his friend Ballerini’s victorious reign as manager is the template for his own tenure and he followed in his fellow Tuscan’s wheel tracks on the Italian team’s arrival in Australia, by accompanying the riders on the first collective training spin.
“I took advantage of the fact that they were still a bit dazed from the flight and the change in time zone to make sure I didn’t get dropped,” Bettini joked. “The general impression is that it’s tough, like Pozzato, Paolini and Visconti noted in July and Nibali has confirmed it to me too.”
Indeed such were his impressions of the course that Bettini was confident enough to rule Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) out of contention for the rainbow jersey. “Cavendish won’t make it to the end in contention,” he said. “Otherwise we’ll all have been completely wrong.”
Bettini also explained that he selected Vuelta a España winner Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) ahead of 2008 world champion Alessandro Ballan (BMC) simply due to the former’s better condition. “Ballan could have a role as a leader but he wasn’t going well enough,” Bettini said. “The opposite of Nibali, who has been going better than I thought.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.