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Cycling chief says Italy is well behind France, other nations

Renato Di Rocco, president of the Italian cycling federation, says it will take years to catch up to the British, Australians, and French

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MILAN (VN) — Italian cycling’s president, Renato Di Rocco, traveled to Paris last week for the inauguration of the new Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome southwest of the capital. He returned home with a bitter taste in his mouth after the French federation’s new multi-use cycling center and plans for a Sky-like project only underlined Italy’s shortcomings at the sport’s top level.

“You can look at Great Britain or Australia, and what they’ve accomplished with their track program and road cyclists, but I look over the border to the French,” Di Rocco told VeloNews. “They are closer physically and in culture, but way ahead of us. Our neighbors excel in BMX, on the track, on the road, mountain biking. … We would like to have their model, but you need time and money to achieve this.”

Di Rocco praised Italian track riders Elia Viviani and Marco Coledan. Coledan won the individual pursuit at the Manchester World Cup this season. He also pointed out Eva Lechner’s silver medal over the weekend behind Marianne Vos in the cyclocross world championships. He explained, however, that France is several steps ahead.

Thursday night, the French Cycling Federation (FFC) opened a new €74 million cycling center in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. The next day, federation president David Lappartient explained his plans to create a professional team backed by the FFC and based at the velodrome. The project would be similar to the Sky/British Cycling model in Manchester. British daily The Telegraph reported that the federation would invest €100 million over five years and that it is looking for a sponsor to provide the balance of funds to launch the program. The team could be up and running by 2015 or 2016.

“Their advantage is that they have a stronger sporting government,” Di Rocco said. “We have a lot less power in Italy. I saw the new velodrome, but not only that, a BMX track, mountain bike trails, and 15 kilometers of closed road for training. In Italy, this would be a dream or a miracle! For example, we were able to build the Montichiari velodrome, but that was completely at our cost. The government doesn’t put in a lira.”

Multi-pronged attack

Road racing is still king in Italy, but the federation supports a multi-discipline approach. Today it boasts two first-division teams, Lampre-Merida and Cannondale, the Giro d’Italia, and its current reigning champion, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).

The federation encourages its juniors to ride on the velodrome, if there is one nearby, or race mountain bikes. Di Rocco explained in a previous interview that the federation hopes this encouragement will decrease the dependency on road racing and a “win at all costs” attitude.

He said, however, the federation’s budget is considerably smaller than the one that France has on the other side of the Alps. Di Rocco also said that it would take years to reach France’s level on the track or to have a major road team supported by the federation.

“To get to the same level on the track, we need more riders and more velodromes. France has five covered velodromes, Belgium three, Great Britain five, Australia five. … It’s another world,” Di Rocco said. “We have a project but we need the structure. That’s different from France, where the cities are proud to have a sporting complex like Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. In Italy they don’t care. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s true.”

Currently, Italy has one covered velodrome, in Montichiari near Brescia. There is a second planned for Spresiano near Treviso. The federation will continue to develop track riders for the Olympics and crossover road careers, but when it comes to cycling structures and government support, Di Rocco admits that Italy lags behind.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.