Alessandro Ballan and his BMC team re-wrote the script for the Tour of Flanders when they successfully chased down Fabian Cancellara’s (Leopard Trek) devastating attack in the finale. While the spoils would eventually fall to Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-SunGard), it was BMC squad that chipped away at Cancellara’s sheen of invincibility by reeling him in as the race reached the Muur.
“Cancellara used up a bit too much, he went from a long way out,” Ballan told Cyclingnews after the finish. “But we knew that our team was strong and we were there in numbers. We kept the gap at a minute and then we gave everything before the Muur to get him back.”
With Quick Step not working due to Sylvain Chavanel’s presence in the break with Cancellara, there was confusion in the chasing bunch over whose responsibility it was to chase in the final 30km. Television pictures from the Garmin-Cervélo team car showed management instructing their riders to stop working at the front, and so it was left to BMC to take up the pursuit. However, Ballan said he understand Garmin-Cervélo’s reasoning, in spite if the team having Tyler Farrar and Thor Hushovd in the front group.
“I think everyone was scared of the Muur,” Ballan said.
“Arriving all together at the Muur wouldn’t necessarily mean that it would stay like that to the finish, so maybe people like Hushovd weren’t sure that they’d be able to hang on.”
Ballan admitted that even though his entire team was pursuing Cancellara, such is the Swiss rider’s strength that he was not always certain that they would manage to catch him in time.
“When he had a minute, there was a moment when I thought we wouldn’t bring him back,” Ballan admitted. “The danger was that he’d get to the Muur, drop Chavanel and ride to the finish alone like he did last year. But there was a lot of wind before getting there and he used up a lot of energy.”
After Cancellara’s exhibition at the E3 Prijs in Harelbeke last weekend, he was the odds-on favourite to take the victory in Flanders. While his eventual third place may hint at chinks in his impressive armoury, Ballan believes that Cancellara was as strong this weekend as he was eight days ago.
“He still showed that he had a super condition, because he was the most watched rider today and in spite of that he made the race,” Ballan said, before pointing out that the field at De Ronde was of a slightly but significantly higher standard. “I think that there were good riders in Harelbeke, but not the strongest like there were today. He put in a really great performance there but when there’s a great team like ours, he can be kept under control a little more.”
Ballan back to his best
After the juncture with the Swiss express had been made, there was a brief moment when it seemed as though Ballan was on course to repeat his Flanders victory of 2007. When Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) attacked on the Bosberg, Ballan was the first man to respond, after pedalling with great facility on the hellingen all day long.
However once they were brought back, Ballan set about attempting to set up George Hincapie for the sprint, but he was caught on the back foot when the winning trio of Nuyens, Chavanel and Cancellara slipped clear.
“In the finale, I used up a lot of energy in chasing Gilbert alone and afterwards I worked for George Hincapie as he is certainly faster than me,” Ballan said. “The three went just after I had closed down Langeveld and to be honest I didn’t have the legs to shut them down too, I got to the finish quite tired, but it was still a fine race for the team.”
Ballan ultimately crossed the line in 12th place, at the back of the chasing group, but was pleased with his performance and content with his form ahead of next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix. He will prepare for the Hell of the North by training on home roads in the Veneto.
“The sensations have been good ever since Down Under in January,” said the former world champion. “I think I’m back to the being the rider I was in 2007 and 2008, a rider who competes at a high level. I’m going back to Italy tomorrow, so I’m not doing Scheldeprijs. I’ll train at home and then go to Compiègne on Friday.”
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.