Two-time world road race champion Paolo Bettini is to leave his position as Italy’s national coach and is in negotiations to manage the cycling team being put together for the 2015 season by another double world champion – Formula 1 star, Fernando Alonso.
News of his departure was confirmed this morning in a statement from the Federazione Ciclistica Italiana, which said that Bettini had requested to be released from his position “to focus on a bigger project with a professional team.”
Bettin told Italian website Tuttobiciweb that the team in question is the one that Alonso aims to launch ahead of the 2015 season, and it adds that the pair were spotted together recently in Bologna.
He said: “The decision was definitely not an easy one, since everyone knows how much I care about the maglia azzurra [the Italian national jersey].
“But now I need to properly evaluate the choices I have on the table. It’s no secret, Alsonso’s project is highly intriguing and interesting, you could even say revolutionary, but we’re only at an early stage of looking at each other.
“We’re tackling it with a great deal of enthusiasm and desire to do it. I can only say this: I haven’t yet signed anything and only in the coming weeks will we be able to provide something more detailed.”
In the days leading up to Christmas, further details emerged of Alonso’s plans in the Spanish press.
Madrid-based newspaper ABC reported that a sponsor from Dubai has already been secured for the five-year period from 2015 to 2019, and that Alsono’s manager is holding discussions with potential investors from India, Singapore and Abu Dhabi – all countries, it should be noted, that Formula 1 has expanded into in recent years.
The Formula 1 driver is said to be negotiating with Specialized to be bike sponsor, and while there is a Formula 1 connection – the California-based bike brand has collaborated with McLaren for the S-Works Venge – it already supplies Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Astana, and Tinkoff-Saxo.
The team is reportedly being set up with a zero tolerance approach with regard to doping, and will not engage riders, management or medical staff with any past connection to doping, and is reported to be planning to set up its own, dedicated medical centre.
Alonso has already met with senior figures in the sport including Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme and UCI president Brian Cookson to outline his plans, and even though the team may not go straight into the top tier of the sport, the motor racing driver is confident it will secure invitations to major races.
Spanish sports daily AS reported that following his 40-minute meeting with Cookson earlier this month, also attended by Ana Muñoz, head of Spanish government sports agency CSD, Alonso said: “It was a very positive meeting. For this project to be in the World Tour in 2015 seems a secondary issue. With the great team that we’re going to have, we will ensure we will be in the best races.”
Cookson confirmed that he had held a private meeting with Alonso and that the UCI’s aim was to help him and others with such ambitious projects to find their way into the sport.
Bettini, aged 39, won back-to-back road world championships in Salzburg in 2006 and Stuttgart in 2007 and his palmarès include stage victories in all three Grand Tours and two points jerseys in the Giro d’Italia.
He also won an Olympic gold medal in 2004, plus wins in three Monuments – Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro di Lombardia, both of which he won twice, and Milan-San Remo.
He retired from racing in 2008 and was named Italy’s national coach in June 2010, replacing his friend Franco Ballerini who had been killed in a crash while taking part in a motor rally earlier that year.
Italy went into the world championships on home roads in Tuscany in September with high hopes of Vincenzo Nibali becoming the first rider from the country to win the rainbow jersey since Alessandro Ballan did so at Varese in 2008.
In pouring rain, the team worked hard for Nibali, but the Giro d’Italia champion’s hopes suffered a setback as he crashed 35km out.
While he battled back and would be one of the final quartet that would contest the finale, he was beaten into fourth place by winner Rui Costa of Portugal and the Spanish pair, Joaquin Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde.
Reflecting on his experience in charge of the national team, Bettini said: “In the past few years I’ve had the privilege of leading some great guys who have applied themselves and given life to a major project that can carry on even without me.
“I’m happy to have gone through this experience. Now I wish the best of luck to whoever succeeds me.”
According to Tuttobiciweb, the frontrunners to succeed Bettini are ex-pro Davide Cassani, currently a commentator with RAI, and Bettini’s former Mapei and Quick-Step team mate, Stefano Zanini.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.