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Alonso to face important litmus test over management choices

With links to Bettini, Rubiera, F1 champion's new team will face questions as it navigates zero-tolerance cycling

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Fernando Alonso will face an important litmus test as he pulls together a management team to direct his high-profile entree into the peloton.

With a five-year sponsorship commitment already in the bag with backers from the United Arab Emirates, the two-time Formula One world champion is pushing full-steam ahead with ambitious plans to create a new team in time for the 2015 season.

All eyes will be on the 32-year-old Spaniard’s selections to lead the team, and how those choices fit into what he says will be a strict, anti-doping platform within the squad.

Last week, Spanish daily ABC reported that Alonso would adopt a zero-tolerance policy similar to what has been implemented at Sky, where sport directors who admitted to past doping indiscretions, including coach and former pro Bobby Julich, were pushed out of the team in 2012.

In every interview Alonso’s given, he’s stressed that the team would be committed to clean racing, and has suggested that a zero-tolerance policy would extend not only to riders, but also to all staff, including sport directors, coaches, managers, doctors, and other personnel.

Indications are that two-time world champion Paolo Bettini is poised to be named team manager in an announcement that could come within days. Bettini, 39, left his job as national team coach Sunday after four seasons with the Italian federation.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Bettini refused to reveal his new destination, but there’s every indication that he’s going to the new Fernando Alonso Cycling Team, called “FACT” in the Spanish media.

“With respect to my new partners, I cannot say a thing, except that I am staying within cycling,” Bettini said. “I can also add that it is an important and ambitious project, with an initial plan of five years, with important backers. I like to do things in a big way, and this is very big.”

Other names linked to the Alonso project include former pro José Luis “Chechu” Rubiera, who often trains with Alonso, an avid cyclist from the Asturias region of northern Spain.

Some media reports suggest that Bettini will be named as team manager, and Rubiera could be tapped as lead sport director.

Kiko García, an Oakley rep and former professional who helped Alonso try to take over the Euskaltel-Euskadi team last fall, cautioned that nothing is finalized.

“The only name that exists right now in this project is Fernando Alonso,” García told Spanish daily MARCA. “Nothing is done yet, and I believe journalists should be prudent.”

Reports have pointed to Jan. 7 as a possible date for a press conference in Madrid to unveil Alonso’s management team.

Alonso’s choices are sure to come under scrutiny as he taps into the ranks of former riders to build his management team.

Rubiera, 40, was one of Lance Armstrong’s key teammates from 2001-2005, and again during Armstrong’s comeback in 2009-2010. A top-10 finisher in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, he won two stages in the former. Although Spanish authorities did not follow up on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s actions against Armstrong and other cyclists, prosecutors in the port city of Denia are looking into doping allegations involving the Armstrong teams during the period of 2009-2010.

Rubiera, who also raced on the Kelme team that was later part of the Operación Puerto doping scandal under the name Comunidad Valenciana, has been discreet about his past relations with Armstrong and his tenure at the U.S. Postal Service team.

Bettini, meanwhile, never tested positive during his career, and was never directly linked to a doping scandal, but won the Olympic road title in 2004, and two world championships in an era when doping was rife within the sport.

The Italian had his run-ins with anti-doping authorities, most famously in the weeks leading up to the 2007 world championships, when he refused an anti-doping pledge that included language that required anyone sanctioned with a two-year ban to pay the UCI a year’s salary on top of the standard fine. After his second consecutive worlds win, Bettini gave his famous “Machine Gun Kelly” finish-line salvo, and said later he was firing back at “people who know nothing about cycling and whose only interests are economic.”

Alonso, meanwhile, has already met with key movers and shakers within the sport to smooth the team’s arrival. Last week, he met with newly elected UCI president Brian Cookson, and also met discreetly with officials from Tour de France organizer ASO.

By mid-January, we should know more about the team the F1 champion will present to ASO for a Tour invite in a little over a year.