The Gran Gala Ciclistico Internazionale awards night in Conegliano, Italy, brought down the curtain on the Italian cycling year on Sunday. Those within the sport celebrated the successes of the season and remembered the late Franco Ballerini.
Broadcast live on Italian television, the evening celebrated Ivan Basso's victory at the Giro d'Italia, Vincenzo Nibali's success at the Vuelta a España and Giorgia Bronzini's world title in the women's road race.
New men’s world champion Thor Hushovd was given a special prize for winning the rainbow jersey, as was Eddy Merckx, who this year celebrated his 65th birthday.
Hushovd rode 130km of Tour of Lombardy on Saturday, traveled to Belgium for the Flandrian of the year awards and then flew back to Italy to ride the Borgomanero two-up time trial on Sunday morning, before appearing at the Gran Gala.
He will also be in Paris for the 2011 Tour de France presentation on Tuesday but revealed to Cyclingnews that he will then head home to have surgery to remove plaque from the collarbone he fractured at the start of the season, before finally going on holiday with his family.
The Gran Gala brought numerous world champions together. Merckx, Francesco Moser, Paolo Bettini, Bronzini and Hushovd all raised a glass of the finest Italian prosecco to celebrate the season.
Merckx was awarded a special gold Lion of Flanders decorated to remember his incredible career. "Cycling is my life and it always will be," Merckx said, admitting he had been out for a ride on Saturday morning before celebrating with Philippe Gilbert after his win at the Tour of Lombardy.
Nibali and Basso shared the stage as Italy forget about its poor showing in the Spring Classics and celebrated it success in Grand Tour stage races.
The two Italians are yet to decide who will target victory at the 2011 Giro d'Italia and who will target the Tour de France, but Basso hinted that he still has unfinished business in France. Any final decision will be made after studying the route of both races after they are unveiled this week.
There was also an American winner at the Gran Gala, with bicycle manufacturer Specialized winning the Challenge Mondiale Costruttori -a season-long competition for bike manufacturers based on the success of the teams they sponsor. Specialized finished ahead of Pinarello, Scott, Cannondale and Ridley.
The evening also included a moment of sadness when former Italian national coach Ballerini was remembered by Bettini, who has inherited his position as national coach, and Alfredo Martini, who was Italian national coach before Ballerini. Both are from Tuscany like Ballerini and recalled their special friendships with the former professional, who died in a rally vehicle accident in February.