Franco Ballerini's death on Sunday has caused sorrow not only in his native Italy, but also in Belgium, where he rode for Mapei in the 1990s. He had his biggest successes with the team, winning Paris-Roubaix in 1995 and 1998 and two if his ex-teammates and one of his former bosses have spoken about their memories of the man.
Patrick Lefevere, head of Team Quick Step, was Directeur Sportif at Mapei during Ballerini's time with the team. “He had a tremendous physique, but it was difficult for him to win,” Lefevere told sporza. “When he came to Mapei, Ballerini was a fierce attacker who didn't think much. We had to do a lot of tactical tweaking.”
Lefevere continued: “I remember Paris-Roubaix in 1993. Ballerini went for the win, but did something wrong and finished second behind Duclos-Lasalle. And in 1996 he had a flat tyre, otherwise Mapei would have had the top four places.” Ballerini finished fifth.
Peeters kept in contact
Wilfried Peeters, Directeur Sportif at Quick Step, was born in the same year as Ballerini and they were rivals on the road in 1994. “He was my competitor in a two-man sprint in 1994 when I won Gent-Wevelgem,” said Peeters. He then joined Mapei as Ballerini's teammate.
“We had regular contact. We lost not only a good friend and colleague, but also an Italian coach you could count on.”
Peeters, who is leading his team in the Tour of Qatar, said that he did not inform his riders of Ballerini's death until after the opening team time trial, “because so many guys on the team still had good ties with Franco.”
Museeuw mourns a lost champion
“The year is still young and we have already lost a champion,” said former teammate Johan Museeuw.
"He was a sympathetic man who could really work for the team. I usually got along well with him, but sometimes there were conflicts between us. Patrick Lefevere could quickly smooth things out.”
Museeuw continued that the Italian, "was a nervous rider. Once we started racing, he could often be difficult to restrain. He was a striker, robust and muscular. Paris-Roubaix was his course, he lacked the explosiveness for the Ronde van Vlaanderen.”
Ending on a light note, Museeuw said that “I shall always remember that Ballerini could eat a great deal. When he came somewhere, then he had to have a plate with a mountain of tomatoes. Then he ate two plates of pasta and then a piece of meat or fish."