World Champ Ballan nears top form

Ballan ready for first Tour win after disappointing spring

World Champion Alessandro Ballan is close to his top condition at the Tour de France after a virus ruined his spring season.

"I think I am at 80 or 85 percent," Italy's Ballan told Cyclingnews. "In the finishes that are rolling I am okay, which I showed with the finish in Barcelona."

Ballan finished seventh on the wet, uphill finish Thursday in Barcelona. He was at the front again on Sunday: the main group crossed the Tourmalet together and Ballan sprinted for ninth place.

The improvement is impressive considering Ballan could not race much of the spring. He returned to racing in the Memorial Pantani June 6, and raced the Tour de Suisse and Italian Championships prior to the Tour de France.

"I started the Tour de France with 10 days of racing. It is very little with respect to the others. I am still gaining condition and maybe in the third week I can have a good result."

It is Ballan's fourth Tour de France. Three years ago to the day, on Bastille Day, he was in an escape with Oscar Freire and Yaroslav Popovych. Popo took the win, Ballan finished second.

Ballan returned to try again: an escape on the final day to Paris in 2007 and third behind Kurt-Asle Arvesen after an escape on the stage to Foix in 2008.

"At the start of the day when the attacks are going I have a little bit of fatigue. I hope to better myself and enter into an escape, maybe even tomorrow."

Ballan won the World Championships last fall in Varese, Italy. He would love to win for the first time in his rainbow jersey of World Champion at the Tour de France.

The only time an Italian has won a Tour stage with the rainbow jersey was exactly 50 years ago: Ercole Baldini's stage win in Aosta, Italy.

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