Italian national coach Davide Cassani has revealed plans to revolutionise the Italian national teams in 2015, with Under 23 and Elite professional athletes riding regularly together in Italian and other professional races.
Vincenzo Nibali dominated the Tour de France but an Italian rider has not won one of cycling big five monumental Classics since 2008, when Damiano Cunego won the Tour of Lombardy. Italian cycling is in crisis and is expected to have only one WorldTour team in 2015, with Lampre-Merida dependent on the support of the Taiwanese bike brand. Many of the best Italian riders and technical staff now ride and work for major teams outside of Italy, while Italian teams and races suffer due to the brain drain, lack of media and interest and dire economic situation at home.
Cassani replaced Paolo Bettini as national coach in 2014 but his men's professional squad was a flop at the world road championships in Ponferrada. Cassani hopes to turn things around by creating an Italian national team that will compete on the professional circuit throughout the season.
"With the other coaches Rino De Canidido (Juniors), Marino Amadori (Under 23) and Marco Villa (track), we've identified 30 riders in the Under 23 and Junior categories. We want to make a huge step up, we want the riders to feel part of the national team all year round so that they gain experience," Cassani told Gazzetta dello Sport, after revealing his plans at special 'One takes on all' question and answer session also promoted by Kitchen manufacturer Euromobil and the Tuttobici website.
"We're going to ride all the national Italian races on the professional calendar that we can; races like Laigueglia and the Coppi & Bartali stage race. We'll have Under 23 riders and professionals together in the same squad so that we can raise the level of the young riders. The first race will be the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, with six riders: Battaglin, Ballerini, Consonni, maybe Viviani and another track rider. I wanted Nibali in the team and he liked the idea but his team have already said no."
"We'll have training camps once a month for the Junior and Under 23 riders and they'll be open to the time trialists too. We'll also have a busy international calendar, riding all the Nations Cup Junior races and ride the Under 23 Paris-Roubaix. Young riders like Ganna and Affini, ho did well at the Junior worlds, will race with the national team a lot."
Becoming multi-disciplined riders
Cassani studied English in Britain and studied the successful of British and Australian cycling before giving up his role as a television commentator to become national coach. He is aware that Italian cycling has to create a new generation of multi-disciplined riders.
"Our culture for road racing is too strong. Right from the start, with the youngest rider, we've got to be open to riding on the track, BMX and mountain bike, we've got to make cycling a hobby rather than just thinking about results," he said.
"We excel in Grand Tours thanks to Nibali and Aru is a huge young talent. Despite our problems, I'm optimistic about the future. If you look at the numbers, in 2014, of the 120 professional riders, 46 were under 25. That's a good sign but we need to give them time to develop. We've got riders like Formolo, Battaglin, Conti, Villella, Bonifazio and then Colbrelli, Moser. We've got the talent to succeed in the future."