Italian national director, Franco Ballerini, is travelling to the Manchester velodrome to contest a special pursuit with old rivals Max Sciandri, Andrea Tafi, Silvio Martinello and Rolf Sorensen at the Revolution on October 14th. Ballerini is now almost as famous for managing the Italian national team to victory in the 2006 road World Championships as he is for his memorable victories in Classic races like Paris-Roubaix.
With the world title in Italian hands for a year, Franco can now focus on the serious business, which is squaring up to his old sparring partners. "There can't really be any rivalries," he smiled. "There might have been once upon a time but not any more. This thing in Manchester will just provide ammunition for mutual mickey-taking for a few months, or years, and prove how bad we've become and how cruel cycling is...!"
"Your name can be Armstrong," said Franco, "but if you stop putting the kilometres in, you'll soon become cannon-fodder. The bicycle is a nasty piece of work in that respect."
Ballerini admitted that, as Revolution 13 has loomed large, he has been keeping an eye on his rivals' form. "Of the five of us," he said, "to look at him, you'd say that Martinello has stayed the fittest, but then he's almost never touched a bike since the day he retired. This should be a great leveller because, in theory, with his experience on the track, Silvio should beat us all ten-nil."
And who's the weakest link? Diplomatically, Ballerini paused, before picking out Tour de France star turned TV pundit, Rolf Sorensen. Franco seems to think that all those press buffets on the Tour have caught up with the blond Dane.
"Rolf is maybe the one - how can I put this? - with the most meat on him," he said. "But then, paradoxically, he's the one who perhaps spends most time on his bike."
"Max is probably somewhere in between Silvio and Rolf," Ballerini said of Sciandri, a former Olympic medallist for Team Britain. "I'm actually looking forward to seeing how Max measures up when we're all relatively unfit; I've always thought that he had natural talent and that he should have won much more than he did in his career. I'm not playing mind games, honestly, but if you could have combined my dedication and Max's ability, you'd have had a superstar."
Tafi, Ballerini said, has "stayed in pretty good shape, although, if you didn't know better you'd probably say the same about me."
But what about Ballerini? "I weigh about 80 kilos, which isn't far off what I weighed at my peak," he said. "It's just that the muscles have been replaced by a whole load of fat. And we all know that muscles weigh more than fat..."
"I still ride my bike a fair bit, but it's very seasonal, depending on my work commitments. Because of the worlds, I've hardly sat on my bike in the last few weeks, but before that it was going well. I was going out a few times a week for two or three hours and," he said, "I must say that I was getting pretty good again."
Franco Ballerini, along with Martinello, Tafi, Sorensen and Sciandri, will face-off this coming October 14th in Manchester. Visit www.cyclingrevolution.com for more details.