Paris-Roubaix says 'Merci Ballerini' this time
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Paris-Roubaix says 'Merci Ballerini' this time

by VeloNation Press at 1:08 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Paris-Roubaix
 

Before the war began on the cobblestones of France today, race organizers requested a minute of silence for former Pairs-Roubiax winner Franco Ballerini.  The Italian, who won "Hell of the North" in 1995 and 1998, died tragically this past February in a rally car accident.  He was 45 years old.

Ballerini raced professionally for 16 years, 1986 to 2001, and chose his favorite race, Paris-Roubaix, to exit the sport.  It was an emotional moment for Ballerini when he rode onto the velodrome in Roubaix for the very last time.  The man known as the “dancer of the cobbles” had a surprise waiting for the crowds that were gathered, unzipping his jersey to expose a t-shirt that said 'Merci Roubaix'.  He finished in 32nd place that day, 8 minutes and 13 seconds behind winner Servais Knaven.

Paris-Roubaix played a big part in shaping Ballerini as a rider.  In 1993 he lost the race to veteran Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle by the slimmest of margins.  He thought he had won that day, raising his arms in victory, before being overtaken by the Frenchman in the final moments.  The Italian was devastated by the loss and threatened not to return to the race.  He finished in third the following year, before cementing himself in cycling history with his first win in 1995, and again three years later.  His rise in the "Queen of the Classics" personifies what it takes to endure cycling's toughest Monument.

Through his position as national coach Ballerini continued to leave his mark on cycling with others.  He had earned the respect necessary to lead the talented Squadra Azzura, mastering the difficult task of rising above the personalities and aligning the team to a single captain.

The Amaury Sports Organization took the occasion to honor Ballerini with a special cobblestone that would be given to the first Italian across the line.  Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) finished in seventh place today to earn the 'Franco Ballerini Pavé' trophy.

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