By Gregor Brown in Roubaix
As a relatively unknown rider, Italy's Alessandro Ballan raced to a third spot on the Paris-Roubaix podium in 2006. Two years on, he was back again, this time after joining the day's power move with Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, both past winners of the cobbled Monument.
Ballan successfully worked with his two companions over the 36 kilometres to the finish and went on to lead out the duo on the Roubaix velodrome. He explained after the race that he was satisfied just to be with the key escape to the finish.
"I thought that it would be hard, because with two riders like that I knew it would be that way," said a tired Ballan metres after finishing. "I worked well with Fabio Baldato in the Arenberg Forest. I left the Forest in fifth or sixth, so it was going very well.
"I followed the right men," he continued. "I had a little bit of fear when Stijn Devolder and Stuart O'Grady went and in the finale I was tired. With the first round of attacks I started to have cramps, so for this reason I am content to just finish on the podium."
Ballan bided his time over the final pavé sectors but did appear to be the weakest of the trio. He confirmed, "The finale was long and hard. Even in our group of three I was having trouble staying on the wheels of Ballan and Cancellara."
Ballan opened up the sprint from the front with 300 metres to the line. "I tried but they were far superior," he said.
With two third places in one of the most respected one-day races, Ballan is even more confident that he can some year win the Queen of the Classics. "I know I can," he said. "Not to forget that the other time I arrived on the podium and this time it was a similar result. I hope to return and do well."