Italy’s road worlds squad centered around Nibali, Pozzato

A few remaining spots on the roster will be filled in the coming days

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MILAN (VN) — Italy’s national team is 90 percent formed ahead of the road race at the world championships that takes place September 29 in Florence. Head coach Paolo Bettini will make his final decision after the Vuelta a España ends this weekend and after several candidates race in Canada. His focus, however, will be on Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) and Vuelta leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).

“Around 90 percent of the team is formed,” Bettini told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper. “I have five or six riders that I still need to evaluate.”

Nibali will likely share leadership responsibilities with Pozzato. Bettini’s aim is to blow apart the race on the Florence circuit, which is expected to be the hardest in years. Three climbs — Fiesole, Via Salviati, and Trento — dot the 16.57-kilometer loop. Nibali will need to use them to arrive alone; otherwise, he will need to turn to Pozzato.

Luca Paolini (Katusha) likely will ride as a joker and road captain. Paolini won a stage and carried the pink jersey for several days at the Giro d’Italia and at the Vuelta, when Bettini visited, Paolini sprinted to fourth in stage 12.

With Paolini, Pozzato, and Nibali in the mix, the nine-man lineup lacks room for Giovanni Visconti (Movistar).

Bettini did not mention Visconti’s name but said, “I expected some riders to show me a signal while others, who weren’t in my plans, made me think.” Visconti’s chance to lead may have ended at the GP Plouay in France, where he was more show than substance.

Pozzato runs hot and cold, sometimes switching off unexpectedly. He is steaming ahead toward the worlds. He won Coppa Agostoni, GP Plouay, and tested the Florence parcours in the last month to prove he is serious. “He just goes into hibernation at times,” Bettini explained. “I’m glad he’s come alive ahead of the worlds.”

Nibali, even if he were to slip from first to second overall in the Vuelta a España, proved he is prepared for this season’s third goal. He won the Giro d’Italia and has shown he was on track for the Vuelta and the worlds. Nibali and Pozzato went back and forth after Pozzato won GP Plouay, with the former pointing out that Pozzato tends to go cold unexpectedly. However, Nibali knows that winning a second straight title will be difficult against riders such as Peter Sagan of Slovakia, Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, and defending champion Philippe Gilbert of Belgium.

“Vincenzo has a limit, his sprint, and he knows that,” Bettini said. “To win, he has to drop everyone.”

The Italians’ attention turns to the Grand Prix Cyclistes de Québec and Montréal Friday and Sunday. If Pozzato can make his mark in the Canadian races that boast similar courses to the worlds layout, then it is settled.

“Nibali and Pozzato aren’t going to step on each other’s toes,” continued Bettini. “Nibali knows that Pozzato is faster; they both know that you can’t throw away the worlds for personal goals.”

Team Italy’s helpers are also finding their place. Moreno Moser (Cannondale) pulled himself out of the running. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) seems more likely to join the team than Ivan Basso (Cannondale). Names in the middle of the radar: Diego Ulissi (Lampre), Ivan Santaromita (BMC Racing), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Damiano Caruso (Cannondale). Bettini also has others to consider, like Daniele Ratto (Cannondale), Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox), Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole), and Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM). The list is long but narrowing.

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