After a disappointing 2011 world championships, Italian national coach Paolo Bettini is keen to turn his attentions to the London 2012 Olympics road race, an event he believes will favour an all-rounder.
“Someone who goes well on all terrains [will win],” Bettini told Il Resto del Carlino. “He will have to be clear-headed and sharp, and have endurance qualities, because 250km aren’t for everyone.”
Bettini famously doubted Mark Cavendish’s chances months before the Worlds in Copenhagen last year (although he later revised his opinion when it was confirmed that Great Britain would have an eight-man team in Denmark), and was reluctant to name his favourite for the race in London on July 28.
“One name isn’t enough, it will be a lottery. And, as you know, predictions aren’t my strength,” he joked.
Bettini was also coy about the names that will feature in the five-man Italian line-up in London, although he was encouraged by Sacha Modolo’s second-place finish at the London-Surrey Cycle Classic in August, the official test event for the Olympic road race.
“Of the young riders I worked with last year, there are more than one of them who can dream of a medal in a race where there are five on a team and you need to be opportunistic,” Bettini said, and he listed Elia Viviani, Manuel Belletti, Diego Ulissi and Daniel Oss among the up and coming generation of Italian riders.
Indeed, by necessity, the Bettini’s team is likely to have a youthful bent in London, as riders who have been sanctioned for doping are ineligible for selection for Italy. He admitted that the dearth of ready-made replacements for the tarnished older generation has heightened the effect of the Italian federation’s ruling, which was taken last summer.
“The federation and the Italian Olympic Committee have taken a courageous decision,” Bettini said. “It’s a big turning point, because we’re sacrificing competitive riders like Basso, Scarponi and Petacchi. It’s a way of taking a step back: before thinking about medals, you think about the quality of the environment.
“It’s been debated because when you take out the riders excluded from the national team, there aren’t young riders who are ready to win. We’re going through a difficult change. We’re suffering, but with good hopes.”
Bettini’s 2012 preparations suffered a recent setback when he was unable to muster together an Italian selection to race at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, and he bemoaned the lot of the national team coach in cycling.
“Other sports live around their national team and interrupt their season so it can play,” he said. “In cycling if you want to have the national team race, you have to move mountains. A cycling national coach always works in very restricted time.”
While the announcement of the Italian Olympic team is still some months off, Bettini was pleased to confirm that legendary coach Alfredo Martini will be present to offer his advice in London.
“Alfredo will be with us. When I invited him to London last summer for the Olympic test event, he replied: ‘Paolo, if you pick me, I’ll come.’ He’s already picked.”