Italian Paolo Bettini is generally considered the best one-day racer of his generation. After all, the double World Champion, and won Milan-SanRemo, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Giro di Lombardia, Clasica San Sebastian, HEW Cyclassic, GP Zurich, and many other one-day races and stages. An aggressive, attacking rider, Bettini was always willing to take a chance and make his own opportunity. Now that he is retired and has become the Italian team coach, who will step up to succeed him?
Will it be Damiano Cunego? Lampreâ€™s Little Prince started his career with a bang, winning the Giro d’Italia and the Giro di Lombardia at the age of 24. After a year wasted due to illness, he came back to win the white jersey at the Tour de France, two more editions of the Giro di Lombardia, and the Amstel Gold Race. Unfortunately, two more â€œdownâ€ seasons have lead many to wonder if he has lost his sparkâ€”too good to be let-off the peloton’s leash, but not strong enough to force a win. He declared 2011 to be the year he would focus on the classics and forsake the grand tours, but despite a few smaller wins he has only half of the season left to prove himself. Will this be his comeback year?
Katushaâ€™s Filippo Pozzato seemed an obvious choice a few years ago, after a surprise win in MSR, the HEW Cyclassics, the Omloop Het Volk, and a prestigious Tour de France stage win in Autun. He was then widely hailed as a cobbles-loving version of Bettini. However, he is now seen as a negative rider who doesn’t dare to winâ€”a shadow who follows more than he leads. Manager Andrei Tchmil has warned him repeatedly to change his tactics, and tellingly left him off Katushaâ€™s Giro d’Italia squad this year. Is Pozzato overrated, or in fact a man who knows his limits and dares to ride within himself?
What about Alessandro Ballan of BMC? His 2007 Ronde van Vlaanderen and 2008 World Championship wins notwithstanding, he hasn’t won much, although he is consistently in the top-10 in the cobbled classics. Rumors of questionable preparation havenâ€™t helped matters. As the end of his time at BMC looms, will we ever see flashes of his former glory?
Or will it instead be Bettini’s hand-picked successor, Farnese Viniâ€™s Giovanni Visconti? Certainly he possesses a fiery spirit, but with his move from Quick Step to ISD-Neri went his chances at participating in big races outside of Italy. Did he squander his potential?
Maybe an even younger candidate such as Lampreâ€™s Diego Ulissi? Â He won the Junior World Championship twice, and this season won several races including a stage at the Giroâ€”at the cost of Visconti. Is he the one?
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