Pozzato and friends race and remember Ballerini
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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pozzato and friends race and remember Ballerini

by Samuel Morrison at 10:09 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Italian champion honored

Franco BalleriniCyclists, friends and fans remembered former Italian national coach Franco Ballerini with a race yesterday in his hometown of Cantagrillo: "Franco Ballerini Day".

"This race meant a lot to me," Filippo Pozzato told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I put my heart and soul into it to try to have something in Franco's memory."

Ballerini, 45, crashed while racing a rally car February 7 and died instantly. He raced for 16 years, winning Paris-Roubaix, and then retired to became the national couch. As couch, he directed Italy to four gold medals: one at the Olympics in 2004 with Paolo Bettini and three at the World Championships (two with Bettini and one with Alessandro Ballan).

Pozzato raced for one year, in 2001, alongside Ballerini at team Mapei and then went on to participate in the national teams under Ballerini's direction. He took it upon himself to encourage others to participate, including Brit Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia). Cavendish attended for British couch and Ballerini's former team-mate, Max Sciandri.

"It is beautiful to be here and see all the people," said Cavendish. "I did not know Ballerini well, but I remember him as a man who was always nice and smiling. Someone who is missed in cycling."

Italian Champion Pozzato (Katusha) escaped to win ahead of Francesco Ginanni (Androni). Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) won the sprint for third ahead of Cavendish by 20 seconds later.

"I was thinking of Franco during and after the race," said Pozzato. "Maybe the chasers did not give it their all to catch us. Maybe they understood that Ginanni and I were very motivated. I told Gianni, 'I know that you want to win, but I do too.'"

Ginanni comes from the same town as Ballerini and often asked advice from Ballerini over his last years.

Ballan (BMC Racing) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) finished first and second at the 2008 Worlds in Varese under Ballerini's direction. They were unable to attend; Ballan re-started his season today at the GP Kanton Aargau-Gippingen and Cunego led the fifth annual Cunego Gran Fondo in Verona.

Before the 103.4-kilometre race, the riders stopped to honour Ballerini at the Cantagrillo cemetery. Ballerini's wife Sabrina and children were present.

With Sabrina Ballerini, La Gazzetta dello Sport donated money to the Meyer Paediatric Hospital in Florence in honour of Franco Ballerini. From its book "Ciao, Ballero", it raised €24,000, all donated to the hospital to buy a machine to freeze stem cells, used in the transplantation and treatment of brain tumours.


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