Ballan returns to try to win Flanders after rainbow jersey curse
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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ballan returns to try to win Flanders after rainbow jersey curse

by Samuel Morrison at 4:30 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour of Flanders
 
2007 Tour of Flanders winner: 'I am back'

Italian Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing) believes himself to be back at the same level that saw him win the Tour of Flanders in 2007. He has had some difficult years since, starting with his World Championship title in Varese in 2008.

"I have two very difficult years behind me," Ballan told Belgium's Het Nieuwsblad.

"'Hey fantastic, a rainbow Jersey in your home country,' but it weighs so incredibly heavy. Parties, obligations... anyone who recognised me pulled on my sleeve and all winter long, I was full of stress. And then, I got that virus, which meant the chance of racing Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in my rainbow jersey, gone. It was very difficult."

Ballan started the Tour of Flanders in Bruges, Belgium, last year, but it was far from ideal conditions. He had stomach problems, difficulties learning English to fit in with new BMC team and a doping cloud hanging over his head.

BMC Racing suspended Ballan and Mauro Santambrogio in early April due to their possible ties with the Mantova investigation. They were linked from their time with team Lampre to the investigation based around Guido Negrelli's pharmacy in Mantova, Italy.

BMC cleared Santambrogio in time to support Cadel Evans at the Giro d'Italia, but Ballan did not see the green light to race until late May.

"Understandable," added Ballan. "BMC still had no ProTour status and had to worry about starting in the Grand Tours. They couldn't afford a risk. But for me, it was really hard to stay motivated."

Ballan, though, feels he's back to his 2007/2008 level.

"It's not easy. I thought a lot about these problems, doubted whether I ever could return to that level. But look at this year: second in Strade Bianche, fourth in Milano-Sanremo. I am back in the top tier. So I think I may say: 'I am back.'"

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