Mario Cipollini, Paolo Bettini react to Franco Ballerini's death
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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Cipollini, Bettini react to Ballerini's death

by Samuel Morrison at 1:06 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 

Mario Cipollini and Paolo Bettini were shocked to hear that Franco Ballerini, the national director who helped them to their World Championship titles, had died this morning in a rally car crash.

"I am completely unable to come to terms that Franco is dead," Cipollini told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I removed from reality, thinking as if I could throw him a life vest and save his life."

Ballerini, 45, died in Larciano, Italy, due to injuries suffered in a rally car race. The Renault New Clio Sport R3 driven by Italian Alessandro Ciardi, co-piloted by Ballerini, strayed off course, crashed into a wall and overturned around 8:30.

Medics attended to the two, but it was evident Ballerini's condition was critical. They worked on Ballerini for 45 minutes, then they took him to the Pistoia hospital, but he was already clinically dead.

Ballerini suffered brain damage, a fracture to his skull, chest and left leg. Ciardi has a fractured hip and is in good condition.

Cipollini brought Ballerini his first win at the 2002 World Championships in Zolder, Belgium, one year after he took the post as Italian national director.

"I remember all the wonderful moments we had together and in particular that day in Zolder," said Cipollini. "All ex-athletes, like Franco, always search for new ways to feel competitive, which explains to me his passion for rally. He still had a lot of adrenaline and he expressed it as national DS and in car races."

Ballerini raced professional for 16 years, 1986 to 2001, and was a team-mate with both Cipollini and Bettini at different points in his career. He capped his career with two wins in Paris-Roubaix (1995 and 1998), but also won the 1990 Paris-Brussels and 1995 Omloop Het Volk.

After helping Cipollini, Ballerini guided Italy to four more wins: World Championships in 2006 and 2007 with Bettini, in 2008 with Alessandro Ballan, and an Olympic gold medal in 2004, again with Bettini.

"I lost a great friend, a brother," said Bettini. "Ballerini risked his life a thousand times, raced Roubaix without a helmet and flew down the Dolomites, but has never had any problems. Destiny took him in a leisure in which he was enjoying his passion for cars."

After retiring in 2008, Bettini raced rally cars with Ballerini six times. After ex-national director Alfredo Martini, Bettini was the second one to arrive at the Pistoia hospital.

Funeral services are expected to be held this week in nearby Florence, Ballerini's hometown.

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