Some of Italian cycling’s biggest names will line up to pay their respects at Franco Ballerini’s funeral today at the Church of San Pietro e Paolo in Casalguidi, Italy. Among those in attendance will be Ballerini’s friend Max Sciandri, who rose through the professional ranks alongside the two-time Paris-Roubaix winner.
Although they never raced on the same team, Ballerini and Sciandri were the closest of friends. "We grew up together. He turned pro and then I turned pro and we lived in the same town for roughly eight years, just 200 meters apart. We trained together nearly every day, spent New Year’s together and holidayed too," Sciandri told Cyclingnews from his home in Italy.
The pair had met only days before Ballerini’s fatal accident when his youngest son spent the night at the Sciandris' home. "I recently bought a BMW motorbike and we were in my garage and he invited me to the [rally] race on Sunday."
However Sciandri was unable to attend the race and awoke on Sunday to the news that Ballerini had died.
"I couldn’t believe it. You have no words for something like that. It’s totally out of the blue. I remember that it was an incredibly beautiful morning I woke up really early. There were blue skies and after half an hour I got the phone call telling me that he’d died. It’s an incredible loss of an incredible cyclist but most importantly an incredible friend."
Both riders competed in some of the most exciting Classics in the mid-1990s and despite their friendship the two were able to put their relationship aside when it came to racing.
"There were a few great Classics battles between us. In 1997 when [Rolf] Sørensen won Flanders were both right up there competing against each other and it was a lot of fun. I was at La Française des Jeux and he was at Mapei and he took third. I have to say that we were fantastic friends and rivals on the bike."
Sciandri and Ballerini remained close friends after their retirements, sharing their love of fast cars and music. "I got him into music and Pink Floyd. I had a Harley and I lent it to him. When I finally got it back five years later he went and bought his own. I was into Porsche too and when I got mine he went out and bought one too. He was a friend. That’s how I’ll remember Franco."
Ballerini will leave a huge hole in cycling, both in Italy and further abroad, and it’s testimony to the man’s image that some of the Italian riders competing in the Tour of Qatar considered pulling out of the race in order to attend his funeral. Sciandri will remember his friend with fond memories.
"He always had a smile, always had time for an interview, and was always willing to compromise between people. It’s going to take a few more days to understand what this means and how much he’ll be missed. He made cycling a better place."