Ballan Wins World Championship Road Race
Alessandro Ballan (Italy) is the world road race champion. The Italian classics specialist, who won the 2007 Tour of Flanders, powered away from 11 companions in the last three kilometers to take the gold medal in the 15-lap, 260.25-km event in Varese, Italy in 6:37:30. Damiano Cunego (Italy) outsprinted Matti Breschel (Denmark) for the silver medal at 0:03.
The hostilities began early. On the first lap, Oleg Chuzhda (Ukraine), Richard Ochoa (Venezuela), and Christian Roos (Luxembourg) escaped. The peloton did not chase immediately, and the trio had run up a 17:34 lead at the end of six laps.
The Italian squad woke up. Marzio Bruseghin and Gabriele Bosisio went to the front for the azzurri. By the end of the seventh lap, the bunch had taken four minutes out of the break.
The gap continued to narrow. After nine laps, 11:37 separated the peloton and the escapees. Two laps later, the gap had dropped to 4:41. The Belgians joined the Italians at the front, and the gap continued to fall.
At the end of the 12th lap, Chuzhda, the last of the fugitives, was reeled in. Early in the 13th circuit, Cunego attacked on the Montello climb. Amael Moinard (France), Joaquin Rodriguez (Spain), and Christian Knees (Germany) joined the Italian. Two-time defending champion Paolo Bettini (Italy), who had announced the day before that the world championship road race would be his swansong to cycling, bridged up to the move. Several others joined him, but all were indecisive, and the move was reeled in.
On the Ronchi climb at the end of the 12th lap, Ballan attacked, and Bettini, Rodriguez and Juan Manuel Garate (both from Spain), Kevin De Weert (Belgium), Fabian Wegmann (Germany), Alexander Kolobnev (Russia), and Hrvoje Miholevic (Croatia) joined him. Eventually, Alejandro Valverde (Spain) and Cunego bridged up to the attack.
The Belgians led the pursuit. At the beginning of the 13th lap, 12 riders joined the break, but the bunch caught the break on the descent of the Montello. On the Ronchi climb at the end of the lap, Davide Rebellin (Italy) attacked and took Cunego, Rodriguez, Wegmann, and Andriy Grivko (Ukraine) with him. Christian Pfannberger (Austria) bridged up, but the Spanish squad became alarmed and chased down the move.
At the end of the 15th lap, Ballan attacked on the Ronchi. Rodriguez, Wegmann, Breschel, and Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) joined him, and Thomas Lokqvist (Sweden), Robert Gesink (The Netherlands), Chris-Anker Sorensen (Denmark), Rebellin, Pfannberger, Jurgen Van Goolen (Belgium), and Nick Nuyens (Belgium) bridged up to the attack. When the field realized that this move was the winning one, the chase stopped. Bettini , who was closely marked all day, began to say farewell to his friends in the peloton.
On the final ascent of the Ronchi, Rebellin attacked. Cunego, Ballan, Grivko, Breschel, Rodriguez, and Pfannberger joined him. After a series of abortive sallies by Rebellin, Ballan made his move with three km left. Cunego and Rebellin blocked for their countryman, and Ballan was home free.
Ballan went into the race as a domestique at the service of Paolo Bettini. Bettini was the two-time defending champion who had told his teammates the night before the race that the world championship would be his farewell to cycling. He was on everyone’s list of favorites.
Being on everyone’s list of favorites, however, proved to be the master’s undoing. Bettini made several moves but found that many other riders, particularly the Spaniards, were marking him. That left the door open for Ballan.
Ballan was easy to overlook on an Italian squad that was full to overflowing with talent. However, a close look would have revealed him as a possible winner. Last year, the Italian won the Three Days of De Panne, the Tour of Flanders, and the Vattenfall Cyclassics. Ballan won Stage 7 of the 2008 Vuelta a Espana, which showed that he was finding his form. Ballan is unlikely to be overlooked again.
Ballan will begin his reign as world champion on October 18 at the Tour of Lombardy. How will he fare? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!