Italian Paolo Bettini will become his country’s national sports director, a post left vacant by the death of Franco Ballerini in February. The Italian cycling federation (FCI) announced today that it will be officially give Bettini the post in Rome on June 23.

Ballerini, 45, died in due to injuries suffered in a rally car race in Larciano, Italy, February 7. He and driver Alessandro Ciardi veered off course and crashed into a wall immediately after the race started.

Ballerini guided Bettini to three gold medals: one Olympic gold in 2004 and two World Championships, 2006 and 2007. He won his first World Championships with Mario Cipollini in 2002 and his fourth with Alessandro Ballan in 2008, with Italian Damiano Cunego taking the silver medal. He was most successful national director behind Alfredo Martini.

Before become director, Ballerini raced professional for 16 years, 1986 to 2001, winning Paris-Roubaix twice.

FCI president Renato Di Rocco said this spring that it would be hard to replace Ballerini and that “three people would be needed to fill his shoes.” Di Rocco worked with Bettini, who needed time to finalise his work with his personal sponsors.

Davide Cassani and Maurizio Fondriest, former team-mates of Ballerini, were both candidates, but Bettini appeared to be the natural successor. After retiring in 2008, he helped Ballerini at last year’s World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland. He appeared to be positioning himself for the role ahead of Ballerini’s scheduled retirement following the 2012 Olympics.

“I have desire, experience and love for the national jersey, which I owe so much to and I believe I have paid back,” Bettini said in September. “To become DS of Italy is the best for anyone working in this environment.”

Bettini, 36, will likely travel to preview the 2010 World Championships course in Geelong, Australia, a trip that Ballerini made in November.

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