By Gregor Brown in Roubaix
The oldest rider in the ProTour peloton, Italian Fabio Baldato, rode his 14th and final Paris-Roubaix on Sunday while helping Team Lampre captain Alessandro Ballan reach the podium in France's one-day 'Monument.' The 39 year-old will retire at the end of 2008 and take with him fond memories, including second in the 1994 edition.
"It was a great satisfaction," he confirmed to Cyclingnews on the infield of Roubaix's Velodrome that traditionally marks the end of the 112 year-old race. Baldato, from Brendola (Veneto), is in his 18th year as a professional, a career that includes 42 wins (twice second in Ronde van Vlaanderen, three stages wins in the Giro d'Italia, two in the Vuelta a España and two in the Tour de France). His best result in the 'Hell of the North' came 14 years ago when he finished second, under snowstorms, behind winner Andrei Tchmil. On Sunday, he still finished a respectable 10th, just behind George Hincapie in the group that arrive a good five minutes after the winner.
However, since joining Lampre with the start of the 2007 season, Baldato has been at the disposition of compatriot Alessandro Ballan. He assured Ballan was in the proper position to be amongst the eight-man move that formed with 53 kilometres remaining. "It was a winning bet for me, to be a protagonist in Roubaix at [nearly] 40 years old.
"Thanks to my past teams, and Lampre. In the last two years the team has had faith in me; 39 and 40 years old is a lot for most teams, but they had faith in me, and I hope I have repaid them well, by giving my maximum."
Baldato spent many of his years riding for famed Italian directeur sportif, Giancarlo Ferretti. It was under his guidance that he made his Paris-Roubaix debut, with Team Del Tongo, in 1991. That year he remained at the head of affairs until the last 30 kilometres, there to help team captain Franco Ballerini. Over 17 years later, he was at the service of Ballan, who finished third.
"Certainly, you could not hold yourself back from thinking that Alessandro [Ballan] could win Roubaix, and I wanted to be at his side," continued Baldato, who was Ballan's room-mate for the team's stay in Belgium. "Over the last weeks, I tried to help him out and give as much as I possibly could. You have to give him credit, a fourth in Flanders and third in Roubaix, means that the road ahead of him well paved and he will always be there as a protagonist."
Baldato will be joined by team-mate Paolo Fornaciari, 37, when he retires at the end of 2008.
Baldato's teams: Lampre (2008), Lampre-Fondital (2007), Tenax-Salmilano (2006), Fassa Bortolo (2005), Alessio-Bianchi (2004), Alessio (2003), Fassa Bortolo (2000-2), Ballan-Alessio (1999), Riso Scotti (1998), MG-Technogym (1995-7), GB-MG (1992-4) and Del Tongo (1991).