By Gregor Brown
World Champion Alessandro Ballan is finding this year's Classics tougher than ever, but not because he is suffering with foul weather and bone-jarring cobblestones. Instead, the Italian has been forced to watch the races on television after being felled by a virus last month which has put him out of competition since mid-March.
Being absent from the famed Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix have been especially hard for the rider who has stood on the podium at both races.
"Clearly it was hard to watch; it has been six years since I have not raced Flanders," he told Cyclingnews. "When I saw the moves of [Tom] Boonen and [Filippo] Pozzato it left a lump in my throat.
"I think it will be the same for Roubaix, it was also that way for Milano-Sanremo. I saw the guys going over the Poggio and I was sitting on the couch, not doing anything."
Doctors diagnosed Ballan with cytomegalovirus – a virus that causes fatigue and fever. His last race was Tirreno-Adriatico stage four on March 14. Ballan, in the rainbow colours, wanted to repeat his 2007 Ronde van Vlaanderen win and to have a chance to better his third place from the 2008 Paris-Roubaix.
"Physically, I am doing better, but until my blood levels are back to normal I cannot force it on the bike. I should have another check up on Tuesday and then I will know more."
After more than a month off from training, Ballan will need some time to get back into form. He is looking ahead to next month for a return to competition. "I hope that I can get back to racing with Volta a Catalunya [May 18 to 24]. Then it would be the Tour de Suisse [June 13 to 21] and the Italian Championships [June 27] to build up for the Tour de France."
Ballan will be in France for the Paris-Roubaix, arriving Friday evening to join the team in the race's presentation on Saturday. He will then be a guest commentator for Italy's Rai television during the race on Sunday.