Ballan flies World Champion stripes on stage 19

Promising escape foiled by sprinters

Alessandro Ballan put the rainbow colours of the world champion's jersey on show with an daring escape in the finale of Tour de France's stage to Aubenas Friday. While the sprinters' teams stopped him from winning the stage, he proved his form is improving after a virus prevented him racing in the spring.

"The overall favourites did not attack and so I decided to give it a go," said Ballan. "Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd were still off the back, so it was a good time to make a selection."

Ballan attacked and joined Laurent Lefèvre (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) on the category two Col de l'Escrinet as the sprinters were struggling to make it to the summit. The two made it over the top and started the 16 kilometre run to the finish with 13 seconds on a chasing group.

Eventual winner Cavendish was pulled back into the group and his Columbia-HTC team started working to pull back Ballan and his French partner. They caught the two riders within the final two kilometres of the race.

"The gap was staying at 10 to 15 seconds and so I thought we might make it. Instead, the sprinters got on it and closed it down. We kept trying, but I have to say, against guys like [Columbia's] George Hincapie it is hard."

The escape was impressive considering Ballan missed much of the spring season due to a virus. He returned to racing in the Memorial Pantani June 6, and raced the Tour de Suisse and Italian Championships prior to the Tour.

"The season hasn't gone so great, but the Tour is better than what I expected. My objective is to arrive in Paris and I think I will achieve that, and I have also finished two stages in the top ten."

The three-week Tour ends after two more stages: tomorrow's mountaintop stage up Mont Ventoux and Sunday's stage in Paris. Ballan counted himself out of tomorrow's stage, but said he would try to upset the sprinters on Sunday.

He wants help team Italy and possibly defend his world championship title this September. He plans on participating in a few races and training specifically at home in Castelfranco Veneto. His next race will be the Tour of Poland, August 2 to 8.

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