Franco Ballerini is now almost as famous for managing the Italian national team to victory in the 2006 road World Championships as he is for his memorable victories in Classic races like Paris-Roubaix.
With the world title in Italian hands until the same time next autumn, Franco can now focus on the serious business — squaring up to his old sparring partners, Max Sciandri, Andrea Tafi, Silvio Martinello and Rolf Sorensen on the track at Revolution on October 14th.
Franco says that the competitive edge of past years, when all four riders lined up racing against each other in famed Classics such as Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, will be long forgotten.
“There can’t really be any rivalries,” he smiled. “There might have been once upon a time but not any more. This thing in Manchester will just provide ammunition for mutual mickey-taking for a few months — or years — and prove how bad we’ve become and how cruel cycling is…!”
“Your name can be Armstrong,” said Franco, “but if you stop putting the kilometres in, you’ll soon become cannon-fodder. The bicycle is a nasty piece of work in that respect.”
Ballerini said that he “pretty much learned to cycle on the track,” but added that he moved into road racing “almost straight away.”
Of course, he is best known for his epic performances in Paris-Roubaix, which coincidentally, climaxes on Roubaix’s old outdoor velodrome. Ballerini has bitter-sweet memories of the race known as the ‘Hell of the North.’ He lost, famously, in a two-man sprint to French veteran Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle in 1993. At the time he was inconsolable, but he made up for that disappointment with victory in 1995 and 1998.
“The track people most associate me with is obviously Roubaix,” he admitted. “And,” he added wistfully, “if I’d had a bit more track experience I reckon I’d have beaten Duclos in 1993…”
All of that is history now and Ballerini is looking ahead to his first visit to the Manchester Velodrome, the crucible of British Cycling’s resurgence as a global track racing force. “I’ve never been to Manchester but I’m actually very keen to go and take a look at the British Cycling federation’s facilities,” he said. “Apparently they’re very impressive.”
There is also some racing to be done and Ballerini admitted that, as Revolution 13 has loomed large, he has been keeping an eye on his rivals’ form. “Of the five of us,” he said, “to look at him, you’d say that Martinello has stayed the fittest, but then he’s almost never touched a bike since the day he retired. This should be a great leveller because, in theory, with his experience on the track, Silvio should beat us all ten-nil.”
So if Martinello’s track experience will stand him in good stead, who’s the weakest link? Diplomatically, Ballerini paused, before picking out Tour de France star turned TV pundit, Rolf Sorensen. Franco seems to think that all those press buffets on the Tour have caught up with the blond Dane.
“Rolf is maybe the one – how can I put this? – with the most meat on him,” he said. “But then, paradoxically, he’s the one who perhaps spends most time on his bike.”
“Max is probably somewhere in between Silvio and Rolf,” Ballerini said of Sciandri, a former Olympic medallist for Team GB. “I’m actually looking forward to seeing how Max measures up when we’re all relatively unfit; I’ve always thought that he had natural talent and that he should have won much more than he did in his career. I’m not playing mind games — honestly — but if you could have combined my dedication and Max’s ability, you’d have had a superstar.”
Tafi, Ballerini said, has “stayed in pretty good shape, although, if you didn’t know better you’d probably say the same about me.” All of which brings us to the man himself: has he still got what it takes?
Franco paused to reflect before he responded. “I weigh about 80 kilos, which isn’t far off what I weighed at my peak,” he said. “It’s just that the muscles have been replaced by a whole load of fat. And we all know that muscles weigh more than fat…”
“I still ride my bike a fair bit, but it’s very seasonal, depending on my work commitments. Because of the worlds, I’ve hardly sat on my bike in the last few weeks, but before that it was going well. I was going out a few times a week for two or three hours and,” he said, “I must say that I was getting pretty good again.”
Franco will have a chance to prove this on October 14th particularly in the showcase event; a four man road pursuit against fellow ex pros Tafi, Sorensen and Sciandri.
The Cycling Revolution
Revolution was created in 2003 by Face Partnership and the Manchester Velodrome to provide a new style of cycling event in the UK, a style that would focus on action and entertainment to provide a unique night at the races.
Through an action packed alternative race programme over three hours spectators will see Olympic heroes such as Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins taking on challenges from some of the best cyclists in the world. The racing is fast and the atmosphere is electrifying with music and lighting effects enhancing the action. With numerous bars, food outlets and attractions around the concourse and in track centre it’s not just about the racing as Revolution provides a superb night of entertainment for all the family.
The Revolution is now in its fourth season and with more star riders and a unique theme to each event it continues to attract capacity crowds to the Manchester Velodrome.
Revolution is organised by
Face Partnership and the Manchester Velodrome
Revolution is supported by
DHL Exel Supply Chain – Manchester City Council – British Cycling – Manchester Evening News – Cycling Weekly – Dolan – Science in Sport – Trek – Plowman Craven Associates – Royles – RoadcyclingUK.com
Revolution at the Manchester Velodrome