Among the interested observers at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday will be Italian national coach Paolo Bettini, and he believes that the Dutch race is an ideal form guide for this year’s UCI World Championships in Valkenburg, which will take in many of the same roads in September.
A regular participant at Amstel Gold Race in his racing days, Bettini is all the more familiar with the sinuous roads of Limburg because his own professional Worlds debut came in Valkenburg in 1998. In keeping with recent tradition, however, the 2012 Worlds will feature 100 kilometres of racing before reaching the finishing circuit, a novelty from when Bettini raced on the course 14 years ago.
"I’m already familiar with the roads because of 1998, but I was curious to see those first 100 kilometres," Bettini told Cyclingnews in Maastricht on Saturday. "I saw it and I can say that these world championships will be another Amstel Gold Race. Those first 100 kilometres are more or less on the same roads as the Amstel Gold Race."
After the trek from Maastricht to the finishing circuit, the peloton will face ten 16.5km-long laps over the Bemelerberg and the Cauberg. Unlike Amstel Gold Race, which finishes atop the Cauberg, the finish line in September comes 1.6 kilometres after the summit, as was the case when Oskar Camenzind triumphed in 1998. Even so, Bettini fully expects the final haul up the Cauberg to prove decisive, as has so often happened at Amstel Gold Race.
"It changes very little because it’s less than two kilometres from the top of the Cauberg to the finish," he said. "Whoever goes strong the last time up the Cauberg will go all the way to the finish."
The conditions in 1998 were famously treacherous, as wind and rain buffeted Valkenburg throughout the week. With the Worlds now shifted forward from October to September, the weather should in theory prove more clement, but Bettini warned that conditions in northern Europe are notoriously changeable.
"Listen, we’re in Holland, so we can’t make any provisions for the weather beforehand, we just have to deal with whatever we come up against in September," he said. "Last year in Copenhagen everybody expected rain and cold, and instead it was almost like summer there. All that we know for certain is that if it rains, it will be more difficult."
Cunego and Visconti
Always keen to play his cards close to his chest when it comes to matters of team selection, Bettini did concede that he would be particularly keen to see how Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) performed at Amstel Gold Race.
"I’ll be curious to see how Damiano Cunego and Giovanni Visconti get on," he said. "We’ll see how it goes, but I expect them to go well. As for Vincenzo Nibali, I don’t know what his condition is right now but he is another Italian who could go well at the Worlds in September."
Notably, Bettini listed a troika of Spanish names among his non-Italian favourites for both Amstel Gold Race and the Worlds. "Peter Sagan, Alejandro Valverde, Samuel Sanchez, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Joaquim Rodriguez. They’re the most important names," he said.
With the London 2012 Olympics a pressing concern in the summer months, Bettini admitted that it would be a struggle to find space on the calendar to bring some of his charges for a group reconnaissance before September. "If there’s a chance, we’ll do it but this year is a bit different to the usual because it’s a Worlds course that everyone knows already from riding Amstel Gold," he said.
As for the Olympic road race in London on July 28, Bettini does not envisage that pre-race favourite Mark Cavendish will have an armchair ride all the way to the Mall. "It’s not for pure sprinters, but for fast riders who can go strong on the climbs," Bettini noted.
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