Di Rocco vows to continue Ballerini’s work; Bettini the natural successor?
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Di Rocco vows to continue Ballerini’s work; Bettini the natural successor?

by Ben Atkins at 2:23 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, World Championships

As Italy prepares to say goodbye to national coach Franco Ballerini, who tragically died in a rally car accident yesterday, tributes were paid by Renato Di Rocco, the chairman of the Italian Cycling Federation (FCI). He also hinted at a possible successor to the two-time Paris-Roubaix winner, according to la Repubblica.

"On a technical level,” said Di Rocco, speaking on Radio Anch’io, “his profile was already drawn, he had great technical and human qualities that made the difference. He was an excellent professional who was able to bring experience of a team sport. He worked for a year in order to apply concepts in a 7-hour race.”

Ballerini famously managed to persuade the members of the Italian team, notorious for working for themselves and against each other, to work together for the national cause. He was brought in after the 2001 race in Lisbon, Portugal, where Paolo Lanfranchi audaciously chased down a last lap, potentially race-winning attack from Gilberto Simoni (Lanfranchi’s Mapei teammate Oscar Freire of Spain won the race).

After starting as coach in 2002, Ballerini won the rainbow jersey four times with Mario Cipollini in 2002, Paolo Bettini in 2006 and 2007, and Alessandro Ballan in 2008.  He also guided Bettini to an Olympic gold medal in 2004. Only Spain, whose riders are similarly loyal to their team, can rival Italy in the 21st century.

“In addition to losing a friend, a son, one of the family,” continued Di Rocco, “it will be difficult for cycling to continue the work as he has been able to do it. Franco could convince those who were left out of the team. We have never had controversy, except those that lasted one day. He was able to convince his squad and those that were left out [of his reasoning]."

As far as seeking a replacement is concerned, Di Rocco was unwilling to commit to any decision, but hinted at a likely name: that of Bettini, Ballerini’s close friend whom he guided to that Olympic gold and two World titles.

"We have a great sage in [FCI honorary president] Alfredo Martini from whom we will seek advice. We had never thought about it because Franco was doing a good job and establishing a system.

“He brought Bettini to his side and they understood without speaking,” he said, hinting that the two-time World champion would be a prime candidate.

“We won’t think about it for a few days,” Di Rocco concluded. “We will respect his memory and then follow the path of logic that he had traced without creating trouble."

Bettini worked with friend and former teammate Ballerini in an assistant director capacity at the World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland last year. In August he had already told la Gazzetta dello Sport that he would very much like to succeed Ballerini.

"I would like to take over for the current team director Franco Ballerini,” Bettini said at the time. “He is very good, but if it stops, I would love to take his place,"

Today, however, Bettini was more concerned with the memory of his friend than to speculate on his possible future appointment.

"Today is worse than yesterday because the more time that passes, the more we become aware of reality,” Bettini said to Sky Sport24. “I’m living again something I’ve already lived a few years ago,” he said referring to the death of his brother Sauro, who died in a car accident shortly after he won his first World title in October 2006. “I must accept it.

“It 's a huge loss,” he continued. “Franco was a true man, everyone liked him because he never wronged anyone. A message? I do not know, it's easy to point the finger at this stage of the rally, Franco wanted to have fun as we did many times together. If it was not a rally car it was something else.”

Bettini and Ballerini were teammates for a year at Mapei-Quick Step and both of them worked for a number of years with director sportif Patrick Lefevre. Lefevre famously managed to persuade a team of potential race-winners to work together; Ballerini might well have learned some of his craft from the Belgian, Bettini may have done also.

Right now though, he is too busy mourning his friend to comment.

“Will I continue his work?” he said. “I don’t even want to think about that...it’s not the time."




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