By Gregor Brown
Alessandro Ballan will line up in the 92nd Ronde van Vlaanderen with dossard number one to mark him out as returning champion. Last year, the 28 year-old Italian from Castelfranco Veneto bolted free with Leif Hoste and went on to out-gun the Belgian in the sprint. Once again, Team Lampre's Ballan will count on his team to battle the Belgian and other rivals to do what few have managed, win De Ronde back-to-back.
Coming off as a conservative rider, Ballan has the strength to get himself to the line and packs a mean kick when he arrives there. In addition to winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen last year, he won the Driedaagse De Panne and Hamburg Cyclassics, while also helping his captains in the Tour de France and World Championships. All and all, Ballan is a contender for Sunday's race and knows his rivals well.
"Cancellara is going very well," he stated when Cyclingnews spoke with him on the eve of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. "He has demonstrated to be very strong up until now. He has the desire to win, even if there is rain."
Cyclingnewsquestioned the top players regarding the possibility of bad weather, and Belgian Leif Hoste took a dig at Ballan' training partner, Filippo Pozzato. "Pozzato? He will be wondering whether to get his shoes dirty or not," commented Hoste. Ballan laughed, "It's true, it's true! He does not go at his best in the rain," he continued, but reminded us, "at Het Volk last year he showed he could go very strong and was able to win."
"Unfortunately, [Hoste] crashed in the first stage [of De Panne] and so I have not had a chance to see him up close. He went really strong in the time trial, he knows [Ronde] very well, he lives in this area; surely, he will be up front for the finale," he summarised of the rider who has finished second in 2007, 2006 and 2004.
However, the number one favourite, according to the odd-makers, is two-time winner Tom Boonen. "Like everyone says, Tom has won less with respect to the last years; however, he can very well vie for the win. He has a strong team that is full of experience – all for him – he is one of the top favourites for the win."
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