Paolo Bettini is beginning to rebuild Italy’s national cycling programme using the track. Over the last week, he stood infield at the World Championships in Belarus to understand better the changes that need to take place.
“I’ve never helped with track worlds, but I needed to be here,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “It’s from here that we should mark the start of new cycling. A modern cycling, multi-discipline, one which Italy needs to conform to.”
After winning another term as federation president last month, Renato Di Rocco gave Bettini the green light to push ahead. Their idea is to construct something similar to Great Britain, Australia and other nations that have enjoyed Olympic success and have seen their cyclists transition to road careers.
Bettini was Italy’s most successful one-day rider during his time. He won Liège-Bastogne-Liège twice, the World Championship twice and the Olympic title in Athens. He took over the famous “squadra azzurra” road team when Franco Ballerini died in 2010.
Changes are taking place, however. Bettini, 38, is transitioning into a managerial role and planning to beef-up Italy’s other disciplines.
“Just think about from where Peter Sagan, Cadel Evans, Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins have come from. Let’s learn from them and the other nations,” Bettini continued.
“[In Italy] there’s an ancient mentality, provincial, with the road at the centre of it all. Maybe it’s not so much the riders, but the team managers. Directors that prefer the local criterium to building a multipurpose path for their riders, one which could take them to the top, the Olympics.”
The Italian federation is working to change that mentality.
Italy’s pursuit team placed ninth in qualifying in Belarus last week. With Wiggins or Geraint Thomas in mind, Bettini wants to develop young road stars via the velodrome.
“If you look at the pursuit team, it’s a very young group and is enjoying progress right away. These boys here are from 1992, one from 1988. Imagine what it’d be worth to have someone like Daniel Oss [BMC Racing], who comes from the track. I’d like to see a bigger working group, which would simulate what the competition is doing and help us progress quicker,” Bettini explained.
“We’ve already began to explain to some clubs the direction we have taken, that it can only help them. We are tying to encourage them, with financial help and also given them precedence for the national teams.”
Over the last few years, Italy has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Its biggest stars have tested positive or been linked to doping investigations, from Danilo Di Luca and Riccardo Riccò to most recently Mario Cipollini.
Di Rocco explained last year that he wants to put ethics above results. He wants to start by getting juniors on the track and trails.
“We want to continue making a strong signal,” he told Cycling Weekly. “The number of positives, even at the amateur level is still high. We are not going to stop doping like this, but we are trying to do so at the grass roots level, working with the babies at the junior level. We are stopping road races one Sunday a month in the first four months of the year to get them to focus on other disciplines. We are trying to change the culture.”
He pointed to the women’s track and road programme as a model.
“Everyone says look at Great Britain or Australia, it’s true, they excel in different disciplines, but our model is the women’s team. Look at Georgia Bronzini who races on the track and the road.”
Di Rocco and Bettini are talking to Max Sciandri. The current BMC Racing sports director may transition into Bettini’s role at the head of the road team. An announcement is expected in the coming month.