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Legends of Roubaix: Franco Ballerini
© Bettini photo
Hailing from the Tuscan city of Florence, Franco Ballerini was one of Italy’s premier Classics specialists in the 1990s alongside Andrea Tafi and Michele Bartoli. His ability riding the cobbled and windswept roads of northern France and Belgium brought him a Paris-Brussels victory in 1990.
Then, in 1993, riding for the GB-MG Maglificio team, coached by Roger De Vlaeminck, Ballerini rode a close-fought Paris-Roubaix where he lost out to the more experienced Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle by a fraction of a wheel in a velodrome sprint. Although afterwards Ballerini threatened not to ride the race again, he returned to the cobbles and, riding for Mapei, won in both 1995 and 1998. In his last major race, the 2001 edition of Paris-Roubaix, Ballerini was given a standing ovation in the Roubaix velodrome and unzipped his jersey to reveal a t-shirt saying 'Merci Roubaix'. He loved the race and was a true Monsieur Roubaix.
Ballerini went on to coach some great Italos such as Cipollini, Paulo Bettini and Allesandro Ballan, as head of the Italian national squad or Squadra Azzuri. Tragically, Ballerini died as a result of injuries from a car rally crash in 2010. A legendary rider and one of the finest to grace the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.
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