Bettini’s Heir?

Fotoreporter Sirotti


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? Lampre’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 “down” seasons have lead many to wonder if he has lost his spark—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?

Katusha’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 win—a shadow who follows more than he leads. Manager Andrei Tchmil has warned him repeatedly to change his tactics, and tellingly left him off Katusha’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 haven’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 Vini’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 Lampre’s Diego Ulissi?  He won the Junior World Championship twice, and this season won several races including a stage at the Giro—at the cost of Visconti. Is he the one?

Share your comments and candidates below.


About Julius

Educated by Dutch and Belgian priests halfway around the world from the cobbled classics that he loves, Julius' aspiration is to someday earn Belgian citizenship.
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7 Responses to Bettini’s Heir?

  1. Freddie says:

    What about Eros Capecchi? I know he was a stablemate of Nibali's (I think) and was touted as a potential GC rider in the future, hes still quite young I think (24/25) lovely style too, he won a stage at this years Giro and was strong as a junior, he may have a chance to flourish

    • Julius says:

      You may be right about Capecchi's potential, Freddie. I noticed him a few years back when he had a great showing in Euskal Bizi, but haven't noticed much since then (until the Giro anyway). I am really eager to see what kind of talent Italy has. Personally I love Cunego's style and attitude, but he may not be the charismatic leader Bettini was. That's one needed ingredient for great success.

  2. Gadi says:

    Dear Whit ,
    I find it inspirational : the way you discuss these matter , which obviously 'bothers' you .
    When everybody else are bothered with the Criterium DD and the TOSwiss (or even AC ….).
    Because it's just 'worthwhile' ( that way) being a cycling enthusiastic.

    • Whit says:

      Thanks, everyone, for the great comments. Gadi, we do our best! And Inner Ring, thanks for deepening our comparison.

      As for the Tour de Suisse, I'm working on the Preview now. Look for it sometime tomorrow once start lists are "finalized".


  3. Inner Ring says:

    As you say, Diego Ulissi has already worn the rainbow jersey twice. More interestingly, that's not where the similarities with "Il Grillo" stop, as Ulissi is from Tuscany like Bettini. In fact they are both from the same town, Cecina.

  4. thelastbard says:

    My hunch is that if Quick Step loses Boonen, QS might make a play to pick up Pozzato on the cheap and "rehabilitate" him to the former Italian champ's former glory. Or maybe QS will pick him up anyway, Boonen or no Boonen. While Bettini had success with Italian teams, he really blossomed on a Belgian team…

  5. Adam says:

    Daniel Oss for the cobbled classics in the next 2-3 years. Elia Viviani for the fast finishes.

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