MILAN (VN) — Paolo Bettini is trusting Italy’s clean and green approach will pay dividends for future world road championships. It nearly paid off on Sunday in Valkenburg, Netherlands, but Vincenzo Nibali came up empty when Philippe Gilbert struck in the final moments.
“Patience? I have more passion than patience. If I can use my passion and experience to help these boys, I’ll do it. I’ll do as a DS or simply as a friend who’s been in the sport for 28 years,” Bettini said on Sunday. “Nothing gave me more pleasure than when they’d call me during the year and ask for advice for how they should handle themselves in certain race situations. That’s great; it shows they want to mature and to improve. I believe in these guys.”
Bettini turned it over to them with two laps remaining in Sunday’s title fight. The general idea was that Nibali would try to attack and form an escape, but the nine-man team had to interpret the rest.
Well before the team took the road or Bettini even selected his nine riders, the Italian cycling federation (FCI) influenced the team with a new ruling prohibiting riders who have been involved in doping investigations or who have served doping bans. The result was a green team – this year with an average age of 27.4 years and six debutants. Bettini nonetheless let the riders decide the race tactics in the finale.
“I left it up to the boys to sort out the last two laps,” he said. “I told them that they’d have to talk and listen to each other. They’d need to be professional and understand what’s best to do.”
Nibali tried to break free with one lap remaining on the Cauberg climb, but found little support. He accelerated numerous times, but was left looking over his shoulder at unwilling followers. Sitting on the wheel after his biggest surge was none other than eventual race winner Philippe Gilbert (Belgium). Nibali said that he expected more out of the Spaniards, but assumed that they wanted to work for Oscar Freire in the sprint. He told teammate and sprinter Oscar Gatto that they would pull for him if he was unable to make it free himself on the final lap.
“They decide this, I agree with them,” Bettini added. “I don’t think it would’ve changed anything given Gilbert. It’s not like he had an extra gear, he had five or six extra gears!”
VeloNews asked Bettini what Nibali said after the finish.
“He told me, ‘I tried and I thought it was possible. When Gilbert went, I didn’t have the legs to follow him,’” said Bettini.
Gatto attacked and held off Alberto Contador in the Giro d’Italia’s stage to Tropea last year. Ahead of the worlds, he won two smaller races and, had it not been for an early crash and banged right knee, he may have given Italy something more than a 13th place on Sunday.
“We worked perfectly, we were present from the morning onwards,” he told VeloNews. “I’m sorry that I was not able to finish off the work and take home something for the team.”
“Leaving the results aside and thinking further ahead,” added Bettini, “they have the desire to race, they were present and they handled their rivals.”
Italy had Dario Cataldo in the early move, then Diego Ulissi and Rinaldo Nocentini. Nibali and Gatto tried. Now, all Bettini needs is time and patience — and that passion.
Roadside on Sunday, Bettini looked upwards not to check the weather, but more to search for a sign from Franco Ballerini. The former national coach died in 2010. Bettini, more than ever, will want to see his green team to a win next year when the world championships visit Florence, Italy, Ballerini’s land.