By Gregor Brown
Alessandro Ballan is once again ready to tackle the Northern Classics. Second in E3 Prijs Vlaanderen in 2006, the 27 year-old rider from Veneto will be one of the favourites for tomorrow's 203 kilometre race in Flanders (northern Belgium).
"After Sanremo I feel good, it went well. All my problems seem to have passed. Now we will see for the next races," said the Lampre-Fondital rider Friday morning to Cyclingnews. He was preparing to board the plane that will take him from Italy to his Classics campaign in Belgium.
He finished Milano-Sanremo (Milan - San Remo) 15 seconds down after working for Daniele Bennati and Danilo Napolitano. "I did not think it would go so well in Sanremo. I had a good level of fitness but I didn't feel at a 100 percent. However, I felt more competitive than the week before, in Tirreno-Adriatico. All in all, it is a good sign for the next races."
Ahead of Italy's big hope for the Northern Classics is E3 Prijs (Saturday), Ronde van Vlaanderen (April 8) and Paris-Roubaix (15). He will base himself in Belgium for the next few weeks in hopes to add his name to the annals of one of these famed races.
"Compared to last year I feel good," he noted. In 2006 he was in the winning move with Tom Boonen; the duo struck free at 38 kilometres to go and was not seen again until the finish, where Ballan was standing one step down on the podium from his Belgian rival.
"My problems seem to have passed. I had a bit of a fever on the Thursday before Sanremo, at 38°C, but now I am feeling really well. I believe I will be competitive but then we will have to see how my rivals are going."
Ballan knows the main rivals will once again be Tom Boonen and his Quick-Step team. "According to me Boonen will be the favourite. He won the other day [in Dwars door Vlaanderen] and he was the winner last year in Harelbeke [E3 Prijs]; it was his third or fourth win in that race [third - ed.]. Then there are his teammates, like [Peter] Van Petegem. Another rider who is going strong is Leif Hoste [Predictor-Lotto]."
One danger-man will also be Daniele Bennati, Ballan's close friend and teammate. "I will meet up with Bennati this afternoon when I arrive in Belgium. He will be with me for the following races... Flanders and Roubaix."