Fresh off a win in Three Days of De Panne, Alessandro Ballan is a marked man for Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen. The tall Italian has finished fifth and sixth in the past, and this year looks to be ready for something more. Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews spoke with Ballan in Kortrijk before the running of Belgium's biggest race to find out what the fans can expect to see.
"Now after the win I have more confidence," said Ballan as we sat down in the Kennedy Hotel lobby. The 27 year-old rider from Castelfranco Veneto had just won the overall classification of De Panne the day before thanks to a second place in the first stage, and a solid time trial on the final stage where he claimed the overall lead.
The win was a much needed boost for Ballan, whose confidence took a hit when he crashed in the GP Chiasso at the beginning of February. After spending a few days off the bike and he was forced to slowly rebuild his winning form. "I had problems before Tirreno-Adriatico, after the crash in Chiasso. Even for me it was hard to believe that I would arrive in this condition. Yesterday, I had the confirmation that I really have good form."
It was in the 2005 edition of De Panne where Ballan marked the first victory in his palmarès; he won the first stage that year as well, but fell just short of the overall. "It was my first win as a professional. I don't remember if there was rain or not but I recall the great escape with Stijn Devolder. We came to the line and I was able to take the sprint but then he went on to win the overall in the final time trial."
This year the roles were changed when Ballan, like Devolder before, came in and swiped the leader's jersey off the shoulders of Luca Paolini in the final time trial. "Yeah, in 2005 I had the jersey up until the last stage, when he took it by six seconds.
"I hope this allows me to be a protagonist also on Sunday," he modestly continued. Sunday is the 259-kilometre Ronde; the race is littered with 18 short and sharp climbs, perfect for a power-man like Ballan. "Today we went to see the climbs. We did the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg and a couple other climbs, plus the small changes the organisers made to the course from last year's edition. We took a look at the zones where we think the selection will be made."
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