Ballerini saves the day as Alaphilippe’s solo falls short in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2021
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Davide Ballerini - no relation to the late 1995 Omloop Het Volk winner Franco Ballerini - rode a superb Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday. He was dominant in the bunch sprint, capturing his third victory of the season. It’s the biggest win of his career.

“I’m super happy. This is a dream coming true,” 26-year-old Ballerini said shortly after the race in Ninove. 

“I really love this team. I feel great here. This team was Cavendish's team when I was young. My dream came true during the first day I joined the team. They really believe in me. All-day long Julian Alaphilippe was telling me that it would be my day. If the world champion tells you something like that then that’s boosting your confidence. I’m really happy with this win. I’m lost for words.”

The win from Ballerini offered world champion Alaphilippe an escape route for his unusual tactical approach in the Omloop. The French star showed off his great form more than 40km from the finish on the Molenberg where he marked Matteo Trentin and featured in a star-studded lead group with teammates Zdenek Stybar and fast man Ballerini. Alaphilippe kept the pace high on the following Leberg climb but on the Berendries the French star dropped everybody and started a seemingly reckless solo attack. 

With more than 30km left to race, three more climbs, and a bit of a headwind the world champion was facing an uphill task. When reaching the famous Muur at 17km from the finish Alaphilippe was reeled back in by the peloton. Suddenly the race headed for a bunch sprint and with several sprinters like Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) featuring in the group the outcome was uncertain.

Alaphilippe explained it was all part of the tactical plan. “It was always better to be in this situation with one guy in front. I had to try. The other guys from the team could sit back and save energy for the sprint. I knew it was going to be difficult to make it to the finish line but the team was in a good situation. I did my best and in the end we pulled for Davide and we won the race. It was the goal to win this race,” Alaphilippe said at the chilly open-air post-race mixed zone in Ninove.

“J’ai froid,” Alaphilippe concluded and he headed for the team bus to warm up and celebrate the team's win. Davide Ballerini knew that the team would aim for the bunch sprint with him if the peloton was still together at the final climb: the Bosberg. Alaphilippe tried his best to support the team and eventually Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal and Casper Asgreen set up a lead-out train.

“I know the last kilometre really well from previous years. I checked it out. We were in a good position with me, Florian and Caspy, who did a really good lead-out,” Ballerini said.

On the Muur, he was able to mark the moves when Alaphilippe was caught. At the post-race press conference, Ballerini was asked if he would now target the major classics.

“I don’t know. The team knows my possibilities and they know that I’m ready. We’ll try our best in the other Classics. We have many cards to play, like today when we had seven riders with a chance to win. Every race situation is good for us, if we are in front,” Ballerini said. 

In stark contrast to his caution were the words from Yves Lampaert in the Sporza studio. “Ballero is in the form of his life. We’ve got another team leader because he’s as quick as a bunny. I’ve seen how strong and fast he is during our training camp. Remember last year’s European Championships where he was the only rider able to follow Van der Poel, just like in [Druivenkoers] Overijse. No doubt that we’ve got another team leader,” Lampaert said.

The former Belgian champion himself slipped away while leading the peloton over the pavé just ahead of the Molenberg.

“I don’t know what happened. Maybe there was some sand. Before I knew it I hit the deck. Tactically it was an important spot because we knew the Molenberg would be crucial but we were surprised to learn that Alaphilippe ended up riding alone,” Lampaert said. He only bridged back up at the Muur. “Luckily we still had Ballerini. After the Bosberg we did everything for him.” 

Ballerini tried to hold off the pressure, he said. “Keep steady with both feet on the ground. I already won the first stages in the [Tour de la] Provence. I keep steady with both feet on the ground but I can dream about the other races. We have everything for the Classics. We have the world champion on the team. My dream race since I was young is Roubaix. You need everything to go your way there, also luck with the punctures.”

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