Newly-appointed national coach Davide Cassani has admitted that Italy has fallen behind many other cycling nations in recent years but said that he was heartened by performances from young Italian riders in the opening races of the season.
Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) won a stage at the Tour Down Under, while Giacomo Nizzolo, Sacha Modolo and Adriano Malori all claimed victories at the Tour de San Luis, and Cassani said he was hopeful it is a sign of things to come.
“The other nations have grown a lot and we’ve lost something in recent years, but I think that our strong young riders are maturing well and the victories so far this year from Ulissi, Nizzolo, Modolo and Malori are comforting, so I’m optimistic,” Cassani said, according to La Repubblica.
Cassani takes over as national coach from former world champion Paolo Bettini, who stepped down last month after a little over three years at the helm. Bettini is set to take up a position in the management of the new team being established by Formula 1 Driver Fernando Alonso for 2015.
“I went to see him and he was very open to helping me during this first phase. He’s putting together a team, but he’s still free for this year, so there’s this collaboration,” Cassani said of Bettini. “He’s a great person. He’s opted for another position but he hasn’t disappeared.”
Cassani will travel to Ponferrada next month to scout the route for this year’s world championships road race, and he plans to continue with his predecessor Bettini’s practice of holding informal training camps for the Italian team at various points during the season.
“If two weeks, I’ll go to look at the route of the Worlds in Spain to see how it is, and we’re looking to have a first training camp at the end of February or beginning of March to start this new adventure,” Cassani said.
Italy failed to win a medal in four world championships during Bettini’s reign, with the 4th places of Filippo Pozzato in Geelong in 2010 and Vincenzo Nibali in Florence in 2013 their best performances, while the Copenhagen Worlds in 2011, where 14th-place Daniele Bennati was Italy’s highest finisher, was the squadra azzurra’s worst result in 28 years.
“We were missing a bit of luck, especially in Florence last year, and that didn’t allow us to get a medal,” Cassani said. “The squadra azzurra has always been a point of reference at the Worlds, and even when we haven’t won medals, the team has always been there.”