Mario Cipollini has led criticism of the Italian team’s performance in Sunday’s world championships road race and questioned Filippo Pozzato’s credentials to lead the team. He also reiterated his belief that manager Paolo Bettini should have brought a sprinter to Australia.
Cipollini was perplexed by the Italian tactics and wondered whether it was in Pozzato’s best interests for his teammates to ride on the front and make the race difficult.
“I wouldn’t have started making the race hard from so far out, because the route didn’t allow it and because Pozzato was leader,” Cipollini told Gazzetta dello Sport. “What tough races has Pippo won in the last four years? And if he had cramps in the finale, as I read, who was Bruseghin riding for on the last lap?
“This isn’t a personal criticism of Pozzato, but I repeat, let’s look at what he has won in the last four years.”
The 2002 world champion was one of a number of former Italian rainbow jersey winners who offered their analysis of the race to Gazzetta dello Sport after the dust settled on the squadra azzurra’s Australian campaign.
Opinion on Pozzato’s performance among the former champions was divided. For Gianni Bugno, Pozzato “did what he could” while Francesco Moser felt that “he could have done better.”
Meanwhile, both Felice Gimondi and Giuseppe Saronni believed that Pozzato should have followed Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) when he attacked on the last lap. “Pozzato said that Gilbert was the favourite,” Saronni said. “Therefore he should have gone with him. I think they could have gone to the finish together and decided the title between them.”
The thorny issue of whether the Italian line-up should have included a sprinter continues to fester. Cipollini had been vocal in his criticism of Bettini’s exclusion of Daniele Bennati (Liquigas-Doimo) from the party that travelled to Geelong and he felt vindicated by the outcome of Sunday’s race, won by Thor Hushovd (Cervélo) in the sprint.
“I would even have brought both Bennati and Alessandro Petacchi,” Cipollini explained. “Is it such an absurd scenario to imagine, for instance, Bennati leading out the sprint and Petacchi winning the Worlds? The podium speaks for itself.”
Felice Gimondi also felt that Petacchi was the the man to beat Thor Hushovd in the finishing straight, while both Saronni and Moser felt that Bennati could have had his say.
Bugno, however, felt that Hushovd’s victory was proof that the course was too tough for the pure sprinters. “Hushovd isn’t a sprinter like Cavendish or Farrar, he’s a rider who’s come close to winning a classic like Paris-Roubaix,” Bugno told Gazzetta. “Having a sprinter would have meant risking having a man less in the finale.”
Indeed, of the five former champions canvassed by Gazzetta, Bugno was by far the least critical of the Italians’ race, praising Bettini’s tactics. However, Francesco Moser felt that when the race broke up with two laps to go, the five Italians who made the split should have pressed on the make sure the sprinters didn’t get back on: “That was they error. They needed to have belief.”
Moser’s eternal rival Saronni disagreed with that assessment, feeling that if anything, the Italians had done too much work on the front. “If Pozzato had cramps, I’d wonder if making the race so hard didn’t harm him in the end,” Saronni said. “Do the riders talk to each other during the race?”
In the build-up to the race Paolo Bettini pinned an interview Cipollini gave to Cyclingnews on the wall of Marzio Brusegin's room as a motivational tool, and if the initial reaction to Sunday's race is anything to go by, the double world champion may well have a stockpile of such material to employ ahead of next year's race in Copenhagen.