Italian national coach and former two-time world champion Paolo Bettini is close to finalizing the nine riders that will make up the 'Squadra' of his first ever national team for the Elite men's road race in Melbourne.
Bettini made a three-day trip to Australia to see the course of the world championships in July and has been carefully studying and talking with the Italian riders under consideration just like his predecessor, Franco Ballerini who tragically died in a car rally accident in February.
Bettini is convinced the world championship road race will not end in a bunch sprint. He could select sprinters of the calibre of Alessandro Petacchi and Daniele Bennati but is likely to select a team full off aggressive riders who also have a fast finish.
"It's a testing course. It's harder than Madrid 2005 and actually reminds me of Benidorm in 1992 when Bugno won. But he did not win in a bunch sprint even though here were a lot of sprinters in the race," Bettini told Gazzetta dello Sport.
"This year's race could end with a group of 40 riders all together but the winner will be the guy who is the strongest on the slightly uphill finish. The course is a mix of Ghent-Wevelgem, the Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Branconne."
Gazzetta dello Sport predict that Filippo Pozzato will be the designated team leader for Italy in Melbourne. He is currently training at altitude in Livigno and will ride the Vuelta a España as final preparation for the world championships.
Giovanni Visconti and Vincenzo Nibali are expected to be alternative leaders to Pozzato, with Bettini's former teammate and close friend Luca Paolini the road captain and tactical coordinator. Marco Pinotti is likely to ride both the time trial and the road race, while Matteo Tosatto and Andrea Tonti look set to be hard working domestiques.
Gazzetta dello Sport believes Bettini has a long list of 18 riders unnder consideration but has yet to decide on the complete nine-rider team. 2008 world champion Alessandro Ballan, Francesco Ginanni, Daniel Oss, Mauro Santambrogio, Daniele Bennati, Marco Belletti and Ricardo Nocentini are all under obvservation. But they will have to show they are coming into form at the Vuelta and the Italian one-day races in early September to secure a place on the plane for Melbourne.
Cavendish not a threat
When it comes to the Italian's major rivals, Bettini is convinced that Mark Cavendish will no be a threat because he will only have two teammates. However he is worried about Oscar Freire, Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler, who has switched nationality from German to Australian for this year's world championships.
"Cavendish reckons the worlds suits him but I'm skeptical because he won't have his HTC-Columbia lead out train and only two teammates," Bettini told Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Freire, Hushovd and Haussler will all be dangerous. Haussler has changed nationality and so Australia will build the team around him."
Australia will name its team on Tuesday but Bettini is expected to wait until much close to the final deadline in mid-September before revealing his starting nine.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.