By Gregor Brown in Roubaix, France
Alessandro Ballan was one of the first big names in the Roubaix vélodrome, Sunday in France. However, the Italian – sidelined by a virus last month – was in jeans and a jacket to see Tom Boonen’s third Paris-Roubaix victory.
"It was a great Paris-Roubaix and well fought. There were crashes in the finale, but none of which effected pre-race favourite Boonen," Ballan told Cyclingnews.
Doctors diagnosed Ballan with cytomegalovirus – a herpes-type virus that is accompanied by tiredness and fever. He dropped out of Tirreno-Adriatico after stage four on March 14.
In last year's Paris-Roubaix, Ballan finished third in the winning escape of three. Despite a forced rest he could not resist travelling north to encourage his Lampre teammates and see his rivals compete in the cobbled Classic.
Two crashes marked the race's finale: the slide-out of Juan Antonio Flecha on the Camphin-en-Pévèle sector and, one kilometre later, Thor Hushovd falling on a left hand turn. Both instances held up Ballan's friend, Filippo Pozzato (Katusha).
"Without the crashes Pozzato could have been up front to battle for the win with Tom and Thor. It would have been a great sprint between the three, but unfortunately Roubaix is like this. Tom was going very strong, and maybe he would have won anyway in the sprint."
Ballan will need some time before he can battle again for big wins. He has set his sights on the Tour de France, July 4 to 26. He will race the Volta a Catalunya (May 18 to 24) the Tour de Suisse (June 13 to 21) and the Italian Championships (June 27) as lead up events.
"I was upset to miss Roubaix and a chance for victory myself, but I am going to get through this and it will give me more grit for next year."