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Tom Boonen (Quick Step) in Compiegne.
Ballan set to start in spite of weighty accusations
Although the spectre of a major doping investigation involving one of the pre-race favourites hangs over Paris-Roubaix, it was a case of business as usual at the team presentation at the Chateau de Compiegne on Saturday afternoon.
While Saturday morning’s Italian newspapers carried accusations by investigators in Mantova that Alessandro Ballan (BMC) had undergone an autologous blood transfusion in 2009, his team has decided not to remove him from its roster for the Hell of the North.
In a somewhat macabre scene at the team presentation, the former world champion was presented as normal along with his teammates, and he was greeted with warm applause by the crowds gathered in Compiegne. Ballan was not available to field questions after descending from the podium.
The Mantova investigation is centred around Ballan’s erstwhile team, Lampre, and the Italian squad was also present in Compiegne, although its Paris-Roubaix line-up does not include any of the riders who were cited as likely to face charges in a report on Tuttobiciweb.it on Friday.
Meanwhile, Tom Boonen (Quick Step) was in relaxed mood as he spoke to reporters at the presentation, even though he admitted he is still feeling the effects of his double crash at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday.
“After Flanders I was on the way up, but Wednesday has made it a little more difficult,” Boonen smiled. The three-time Paris-Roubaix winner is Fabian Cancellara’s biggest challenger, but he was reluctant to discuss his plans to beat the Swiss rider, explaining that tactics soon go out the window in the Hell of the North.
“There aren’t many tactics you can plan for Paris-Roubaix,” Boonen said. “After a few cobbled sections it’s possible you’ll have lost half your time to crash or something. We’ll plan a little bit, but not too much and I think the strength of the team is that we have a few guys we can play with.”
One of those men is Sylvain Chavanel, and the loudest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for the plucky Frenchman, who came agonisingly close to victory at last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.
Other riders on hand in Compiegne included Paris-Roubaix debutant Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad), Slovakian talent Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Sky’s dark horse Geraint Thomas, who is fresh from a fine showing at last weekend’s Tour of Flanders.
For an exclusive picture gallery from the team presentation, click here.