MILAN (VN) — Two-time world champion Paolo Bettini rues losing his job as Italy’s head coach and having “wasted” a year working to launch Fernando Alonso’s team in 2014.
The squad failed to materialize as Spain’s Formula One driver turned his attention to his new auto-racing team, McLaren.
“Had I known that the team would not take off, I would have remained with the Italian national team,” Bettini told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.
“It doesn’t make sense to talk about this now, however. I considered it a wasted year.”
The 40-year-old closed his cycling career in 2008 with two wins in the world championships, an Olympic title and victories in major classics like Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Milano-Sanremo.
After Bettini spent three years directing the national team, Spain’s two-time F1 champion asked him to help form a cycling team for 2015. Bettini accepted the role as head technical director and with the start of 2014, began finding cyclists and staff.
Bettini explained that the management staff was going to be young, with an average age of 40, and that even though Alonso’s team would lack big names like Chris Froome or Peter Sagan, it would be able to compete at the upper end of the WorldTour.
While Bettini worked, Alonso’s Ferrari team made changes that eventually saw the 2005-06 champion leave for McLaren.
“It all began in the wrong year for Alonso,” Bettini said. “His work is racing Formula One cars. It was a crucial year for his career, and he had to concentrate on that. There wasn’t space for a fascinating but demanding project. The entire idea froze.”
In March, Bettini said Alonso and his manager, Luis García Abad, would announce the team later in the month or in April. That announcement slid to July and then went off the track completely.
Alonso focused on racing and closed the season with Ferrari in sixth behind classification winner Lewis Hamilton. In October, ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, cycling’s governing body confirmed Alonso would not have a cycling team in 2015 because no one had requested a license.
Bettini works for a few sponsors, but remains without a job. In 2014, for the first time, he watched the world championships from home. He said he would consider working for Alonso if the chance came up again, but would be “more cautious” about doing so.
“We are in standby,” Bettini said. “Fernando still ‘sees’ his team happening in the future. I know well that it seems very unreliable because he also already tried to take over Euskaltel, but we’ve spoken many times and I can assure you that he’s capable and passionate. He’s also proud, and he doesn’t want the story to end this way.”
Alonso reportedly had 100 million euros ($115 million) in backing for five years from the UAE to run his team. He said in November that his dream remains alive, even though it lacks a time frame.
“I believe you can very easily combine the two sports — cycling and auto racing,” he told the EFE wire service, “and that’s something I want to do in the future.”