Filippo Pozzato, Mark Cavendish and many of the riders that were part of the Italian team remembered former national coach Franco Ballerini at an emotional memorial race in his hometown of Cantagrillo, near Florence on Saturday.
Ballerini died on February 7 after a car rally accident. His wife and two sons Matteo and Gianmatteo were the special guests and a special exhibition was held in the main square, remembering Ballerini's career as a professional rider, his two victories at Paris-Roubaix and his success as Italian national coach.
Pozzato was due to take a break from racing after the Giro d'Italia but rode in the Italian national champion's jersey for one last time to remember Ballerini. Cavendish had just returned from a mountain training camp but wanted to ride the race.
"I didn't know Ballerini as well as a lot of other people but I remember he was always kind and always smiling. Everybody misses him."
Pozzato beat Francesco Ginanni, who comes from the same town as Ballerini, after the two broke away in the final 10km of the 75km circuit race. Cavendish was fourth, behind Alessandro Petacchi in the bunch sprint. Pozzato was unable to attend Ballerini's funeral because he was riding the Tour of Qatar.
"I really wanted to win this race because it's held in memory of Franco," Pozzato said after climbing on the winner's podium with Ballerini's son Matteo.
"This is my last race as Italian champion because I won’t ride this year's championships. It's very satisfying to end my time as national champion with a special win. I won the prize as best Italian rider at Paris-Roubaix and now I've also won his race."
"I had a special relationship with Franco. We often argued about things but that's how you create true friendship."