The death of Franco Ballerini has left friends and fans mourning, but it has also left a big gap to fill, the role of Italian national team director.
Ballerini brought Italy five gold medals, including an Olympic win and two World Championship wins with Paolo Bettini, the likely successor.
"When I raced, Franco became the DS only the Monday before Worlds," Bettini told La Gazzetta dello Sport today. "We argued, we fought, but the truth is that he was always right."
Ballerini, then 36 years old, turned the Italian team around, into a winning machine. The next year he won with Mario Cipollini and he kept winning, with Bettini in 2006 and 2007 and Alessandro Ballan in 2008, plus the Olympic road race in 2004.
He had been preparing for the 2010 World Championships in Geelong, Australia, taking a trip to see the course in November. Italy must now find someone to lead its team in Geelong and onwards, it faces a difficult decision to replace Ballerini.
Bettini, 35, retired after the 2008 season and last year assisted Ballerini at the Worlds in Mendrisio, Switzerland. There was speculation then about Bettini replacing Ballerini after the London Olympics in 2012.
"I have desire, experience and love for the national jersey, which I owe so much to and I believe I have paid back," Bettini said in September of becoming the DS. "To become DS of Italy is the best for anyone working in this environment."
Italy's other likely options are Davide Cassani, former cyclist and now TV commentator, and Maurizio Fondriest, former team-mate of Ballerini.
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