Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) put up a gutsy ride to finish seventh in Paris-Roubaix, 3:46 behind Fabian Cancellara. But more than the result, Pozzato wanted to remember fellow Italian Franco Ballerini by winning the special prize created by race organizers ASO and awarded to the first Italian to make it to the Roubaix velodrome.
Pozzato raced wearing an all-black kit and crossed the line in the velodrome holding up a small photograph of when Ballerini rode Paris-Roubaix in 2001 for the last time in his career and unzipped his jersey to show the words 'Merci Roubaix' written on his t-shirt as he finished the race.
Pozzato was forced to miss the Tour of Flanders after being struck by a stomach virus and the illness meant he was no longer a favorite for victory. He knew he would struggle after 200km of racing and was just hoping to finish in the top ten.
Pozzato could hardly stand up in the centre of the velodrome before he collected the special Ballerini cobblestone. He had perhaps gone deeper and suffered more than in any race he had ever ridden and even won during his career.
"I really wanted that special prize. I'm going to keep at home as my way of remember Franco," Pozzato said.
"He was an important person for me. I wish I could have remembered him by winning but I couldn't do any better. I was actually surprised by how well I managed to do after everything I've been through in the last ten days. I got through the last 30km on sheer determination."
"I tried to mark Cancellara for as long as I could. But when he went, everyone else looked at each other and nobody really had the legs to go after him. I think Boonen was a bit stunned that Cancellara attacked where he did, he probably didn’t think he'd attack so far out. But we all know that Fabian has a huge, huge engine and can do things like that."
Now for the Amstel Gold Race
Like most of the cobbled classics contenders, Pozzato usually takes a break after Paris-Roubaix but will ride next Sunday's Amstel Gold Race. He is tired after a tough spring but finished second in the junior road race world championships in 1998 that also included the final Cauberg climb.
"It's back on my race programme after I missed Flanders," he told Gazzetta dello Sport on Monday.
"We'll have a strong team with Rodriguez, Ivanov, who won last year, and Kolobnev, but I hope to have the room to try something. I think I'm suited to the climb up to the finish and the sprint at the top of the Cauberg. But first of all I've got to recover from Roubaix because I gave it everything to make it to the velodrome and get a result for Franco."