After resisting the temptation to field Andrea Guardini in the under 23 road race at last year's world championships in Copenhagen, Italy has broken from that policy in Valkenburg and named Pro Continental rider Fabio Felline (Androni-Venezuela) in its under 23 line-up this time around.
Since the old divide between amateur and professional came to an end 1995 (when, incidentally, Dutchman Danny Nelissen took gold in the amateur Worlds during a hiatus in his own professional career), the line dividing the two replacement categories of under 23 and elite has grown ever more faint.
Gerald Ciolek (Germany) won the title as a Pro Continental rider in 2006 and Peter Velits (Slovakia) repeated the feat a year later. Both riders came from the German-based Wiesenhoff squad.
According to current UCI regulations, any rider under the age of 23 may participate in the Worlds, with the exception of those who ride for WorldTour squads. In spite of that regulation, however, Italy had by and large picked from the dilettante ranks, although in 2009, an exception was made for Damiano Caruso, then of LPR.
Speaking at the presentation of the Italian teams in Maastricht, however, under 23 coach Marino Amadori hinted that the federation's policy has now definitively shifted.
"We've opened to include a professional rider, just like everyone else does," Amadori said of his decision to select Felline. "He's a boy of real value and we thought it would be worth doing for his future."
A third-year professional, Felline has already raced for at both the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia. Indeed, the irony is that in his first year as a professional in 2010, Felline was ineligible for the under 23 Worlds as he raced at WorldTour level with Footon-Servetto.
Winner of the Giro dell'Appenino and the recent Memorial Pantani in 2012, the 22-year-old Felline was also in consideration for Paolo Bettini's elite men's team, taking part in training camps earlier in the season.
"Felline's aim was to the week of the Worlds in great form," Bettini said on Thursday evening. "He's been going well recently and beaten his real competitors, the professionals. He might well have deserved a place in the elite team for these Worlds, but as a support rider. Here, he can be a point of reference for the under-23 team."
Felline will not only be a point a point of reference for his own five-man team, but for the entire race, as he lines up among the favourites, although he will have some company from the Pro Continental ranks. Among his rivals on Saturday morning are Tom Dumoulin (Argos-Shimano), Angelo Tulik (Europcar) and Tom Van Asbroeck (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator).
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