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Italy looking for passistas for Ponferrada worlds team

Davide Cassani is starting to build his first Italian team for road worlds

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MILAN (VN) — After previewing the course last week, Italian national team coach Davide Cassani has begun narrowing his list for the elite men’s team at the 2014 UCI Elite Road World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain.

“The favorite, if he’s going well, will be [Peter] Sagan. He climbs well and sprints well, he’s very fast,” Cassani told VeloNews. “I don’t want to name names for the Italian team yet. I want to think this over well, above all, to talk to our riders. However, the course suits a fast passista. … I like this circuit because we have different riders who are fast or pretty fast, they can hang on in the climbs.”

The circuit in northwest Spain, 100 kilometers west of Leon, covers 18.2 kilometers and two climbs. The elite men must race it 14 times for 254.8km and more than 13,000 feet of climbing. Cassani explained that the circuit is easier than last year’s in Florence. It climbs wide roads and descends quickly through gentle, sweeping bends. The descents, he said, allow for recovery.

The first climb covers about five kilometers at five-percent gradient. The second one goes for one kilometer at eight percent and leaves five kilometers to the finish. Cassani compared it to Benidorm in 1992 or Madrid in 2005. Most sprinters, he said, will eventually lose ground.

“This course is not for pure sprinters because in the last lap they will eventually be dropped but someone will be able to hang on. In theory, it’s a worlds were 40 riders can arrive as a group,” Cassani said. “It’s a circuit where you can create possibilities. We will try to use our imagination.”

The Ponferrada visit was Cassani’s first official trip since taking over from Paolo Bettini in January. He rode the circuit twice and filmed it from his bike-mounted video camera. Cassani will review the film and meet with riders who could possibly make up Italy’s nine-man team for the Sept. 28 elite men’s road race.

“Now we work in a group and we plan camps,” he said. “We will have a meeting at the end of the month with 25 riders, pros all the way down to junior-level riders. So, we are trying to organize it all. I’ll use the video we made and show it to the riders when we meet.”

Cassani has his homework ahead of him. The former professional must whittle down a long list of hopefuls to make the nine-man roster. Last year, Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) led the Squadra Azzurra in Florence, but that won’t necessarily be the case in Ponferrada.

“Last year, we had Nibali who was racing on his course. Had he not crashed, it would’ve gone a lot better, for sure,” Cassani said. “He raced the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España and not the Tour de France, so the lead up was ideal.

“We will study different possibilities. I need to talk to the riders, the ones racing the Tour and the ones racing the Vuelta. The Vuelta is the best lead-up, even if [2013 world champion] Rui Costa skipped the Vuelta last year.”

Cassani refused to list possible riders, but does prefer the passistas — riders who are “fast or pretty fast” and who can “hang on in the climbs” — for the 2014 worlds.

Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing), and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) could top his list. Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Francesco Gavazzi (Astana), Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) also fit the bill.

Cassani will consider their racing programs and follow their progress this season. By July, he should have a rough idea of the team that he will take for his worlds debut in Ponferrada.

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