Italian national team manager Paolo Bettini has returned from his reconnaissance of the World Championships Road Race course in Geelong, Australia, and has spoken of a tricky route that reminds him of an “Amstel Gold Race without the final climb of the Cauberg”. Bettini spent two days this week previewing the route in the company of Daniele Bennati (Liquigas-Doimo), Luca Paolini (Aqua & Sapone), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and Giovanni Visconti (ISD).
This year’s World Championship route is an unusual one, in that the race starts in Melbourne and the riders must ride 85km to Geelong before covering eleven laps of the circuit there. While the race will undoubtedly be decided in Geelong, Bettini can envisage the early section as being anything but a procession.
“For almost 60km you’re basically riding in open countryside on an undulating route exposed to the wind. A lot of wind. They told us that the windy season is September and October, so we know that we’ll be up against a sort of mini Ghent-Wevelgem”, said Bettini, speaking at a press conference this morning.
The Geelong circuit itself also appears to be more difficult that widely touted. “It’s testing, it’s no Zolder,” Bettini warned. “Over the 175km that we’re on the circuit there we climb a total of 2,700 metres. The finishing straight has a 700m stretch of climbing at 6%, then a little section that climbs again to 4-5% to the line.”
“There are two major climbs on the circuit, both tough. The first is 1.1km with three changes in rhythm. The second is a long straight that reminds me a little of Wallonia. It might well be a circuit suited to a fast man who knows how to climb as well.”
When asked to compare it to his last world title-winning ride in Stuttgart, Bettini felt that the Geelong course is tougher. “Stuttgart was a hard course, but there were 3 or 4km in which you could recover. This one doesn’t give you that chance, because it’s all very undulating,” Bettini explained.
The rigorous commitment to detail so evident in the late Franco Ballerini’s reign as Italian manager is something Bettini clearly aims to replicate. He and his charges not only reconnoitred the course itself, but also training roads in the area. “The location in which we’re staying is a flat area all told, so it will be hard to find climbs of a certain kind. It’s a problem that needs to be overcome, because we have two weeks of training there ahead of us.” The Italian squad will depart Italy on September 21 ahead of the race on October 3.
The two-time world champion and Colnago ambassador was pleased with the participation of Bennati, Paolini, Pozzato and new Italian champion Visconti. “We had a good experience together and it was constructive to discuss the circuit with them. On Wednesday morning they did 90km on the circuit. Yesterday I rode with them. A lap on the bike and then one in the car before going to the airport.”
Bettini was also happy to be back in the saddle himself. “Think about it, I had to go to Australia to get back on the bike!” he joked. “But I would have liked that circuit [as a racer], legs allowing. It’s a course that’s good for Freire. It could end up in a sprint of up to sixty riders, but the winner will be a fast rider who can handle mixed course. Valverde, Bettini and Jalabert would have been very suited to a course like this.”
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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.