On the eve of the 109th edition of Paris-Roubaix, the BMC Racing Team is focusing on Sunday's racing action rather than team leader Alessandro Ballan’s off-the-bike problems. Together with experienced pavé specialist George Hincapie, the Italian will lead the American cycling team when they tackle the cobbles in the sunny north of France.
The team's decision to keep former world champion Ballan in their selection due to the lack of official accusations was backed by race organizer Christian Prudhomme of the Amaury Sport Organization. “There's no official information up until now, so for us there is no problem at all with Ballan,” Prudhomme told Cyclingnews on Saturday afternoon in Compiègne.
Exactly one year ago, when the investigation in Mantova was started, the team opted to suspend Ballan and team-mate Mauro Santambrogio. That suspension was subsequently lifted in May. On Friday, Italian public prosecutor Antonino Condorelli accused Ballan of undergoing an autologous blood transfusion in 2009, and said that he would be one of 32 people likely to face charges in the coming days.
“We're here to ride Paris-Roubaix,” team director John Lelangue stated at the team presentation in Compiègne when asked about the accusations levelled at Ballan. The latter smiled away questions about the case when he showed up with his BMC teammates at the team presentation in Compiègne, and meanwhile handed out autographs and posed for photographs with the countless fans.
“With Ballan and Hincapie we have a team with two leaders,” Lelangue said. “Hincapie always has ambitions in this race even though he crashed twice on Wednesday in the Scheldeprijs, without major damage. It's his race. He's been talking about this race since October. We've been on the cobbles four times this week. He's ready.
“Behind them we have an experienced team with Manuel Quinziato, Marcus Burghardt and Michael Schar to work for them. Hopefully we'll see the team performing like last week.”
In last weekend’s spectacular Tour of Flanders, BMC turned the race upside down by lining up all of its team riders in front of the peloton, trying to bring back Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) and Sylvain Chavanel (Quick-Step).
“We just rode our own race,” Lelangue said. “We weren't chasing to bring back Cancellara but to win the race. With Cancellara and Chavanel, there were two strong riders up the road. It was only logical that we worked towards the Muur in Geraardsbergen.”
Lelangue is hopeful for a similarly strong performance this weekend. “It'll be a recompense if the team functions well [...] and if we can deliver Hincapie and Ballan at the 'final douze' [the final twelve pavé sectors],” he said. Last week the team had both leaders in the decisive breakaway group after the Muur, but they failed to sprint for the victory in the end.
“It's true that we didn't finish on the podium but we were in the top 10 and gave a demonstration. We'll try to do even better tomorrow,” Lelangue stated.
In order to do so, BMC will have to try to keep last year's winner and top favourite Cancellara under control. “No, there's not only Cancellara,” he said. “There are a lot of contenders for the victory. There are four strong groups who can dominate the race. There's Garmin with a strong block around Hushovd, and then also Leopard, Quick-Step and us.”
The Belgian team manager hopes that his riders will be able to keep the race under control and he felt it should be easier in the Hell Classic than in the Tour of Flanders.
“Flanders is a more difficult race to control although Roubaix can often be quite surprising too; it can change quickly,” he said. “With the new sector following shortly after the Arenberg forest and the weather conditions as they are I think it's going to be a fast race. I can't give away our tactical plan but we have prepared the race to perfection.”