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By Andrew Hood
Alessandro Ballan started Sunday’s men’s elite road race as a helper for the team’s biggest stars but ended the day world champion.
Ballan attacked in each of the last three laps, but it was his move with about three kilometers to go to drop a leading group of about a dozen riders that included two Italian teammates that sealed Italy’s third straight rainbow jersey.
It was a drag race to the finish, but the 2007 Tour of Flanders champion held on to win the world title on home roads.
Damiano Cunego took second at three seconds back to make it one-two for Italy with Matti Breschel (Denmark) rounding out the podium with bronze.
“It’s a surprise to win the worlds today. The team was riding for Paolo, but he was super-controlled by the Spanish riders,” Ballan said. “I knew I was strong. When I attacked, it was a good moment, but I started suffering some cramps in the end. The power of the fans carried me to the line.”
Reigning two-time world champion Paolo Bettini, racing in his final race of his career, was the center of attention for the powerful Spanish team.
Spain was marking Bettini so intensely that it opened the door for Ballan to attack on the decisive Ronchi climb on the penultimate lap. Cunego and Davide Rebellin both bridged out to give Italy three in the break, while Spain only had Joaquin Rodriguez, who was marking moves all day and not Spain’s team leader.
“There was no ‘Plan B’ today. It was all for Paolo,” Ballan said. “You could see every time he raised his head, Spain swarmed him. That gave us the possibility to go.”
Alejandro Valverde was told to follow Cunego and Ballan, but stayed with Bettini instead. Oscar Freire, hoping to win a record fourth world title, also finished with the Bettini group at 4:53 back.
“We really blew it today,” said Spanish national coach Paco Antequera. “We should have had one of our big riders in that group. We let the world title slip away.”
Steven Cozza (USA) rode an excellent race in his first elite road worlds with 23rd at 1:40 to lead a young U.S. team that also included Tyler Farrar (63rd a 10:33 back) and Lucas Euser (76th at 22:49). Dave Zabriskie and Brent Bookwalter did not finish.
Michael Barry (Canada) overcame a crash in the second lap to finish with the Bettini group in 33rd.
“I’m a little disappointed because I really had good legs today,” Barry said at the line. “I probably had the legs to go with that Ballan group, but I was with Bettini and Valverde. I thought with those guys there, it would all come back together. It was definitely one of my best worlds ever.”
It was Ballan’s day.
His attack on the penultimate Ronchi climb broke the stalemate on the tightly controlled dominated by the Spanish, Belgian and Italian teams.
A baker’s dozen made the winning break, including three Italians for the final charge up the decisive Ronchi climb that topped out with 3.8km to go. Rebellin and Cunego were the top names, but Ballan surged up the right side of the road to catch the pack by surprise just after a move by Rebellin had been reeled in with just under 3km to go.
With three teammates up the road, Bettini was seen saying his good-byes on the final lap in a second chase group when it was obvious he wasn’t going to win a record third straight rainbow jersey.
Cunego and Rebellin could only watch as Ballan made his bid for history. Breschel counted on Danish teammate Chris-Anker Sorensen and Belgian’s Nick Nuyens and Jurgen Van Goolen to try to reel in Ballan, but they left it too late.
Cunego bolted to second to confirm his candidacy to replace Bettini as one of the captains for the future Italian selections.
“I am happy for Alessandro. As a man and as a champion, he races from February to October and he deserves this,” said Cunego. “The team worked today to perfection and we all worked for the benefit of the team. It’s a great result of prestige to be on the podium. We’ll miss Paolo, but we have a strong team for the future.”
The pack was welcomed by ideal racing conditions, with sunny, clear skies, a slight breeze and temperatures in the mid 60s (rising into the high 70s by the afternoon).
The 17.3km loop featured two climbs. The first, the short Via Montello hill, cam in the first two kilometers. The second, longer climb up the twisting Ronchi hill featured ramps as steep as 11 percent and topped out just under 4km to go to the finish.
The five-man U.S. team was loaded with young riders getting their first take of worlds competition. Dave Zabriskie, fresh off taking bronze in the time trial, was the lone veteran while Farrar was coming off a big win at the Poitou-Charentes race in France.
“The form is coming up. We have a really young team, so it’s going to be hard against the big teams like the Italians and Spanish,” Farrar said before the start. “I can’t imagine it would come down to a bunch sprint, but if it does, I will try to stick my nose out there.”
The early going was pretty uneventful, without any major attacks until midway through the second passage when Carlos José Ochoa (Venezuela) attacked on the Ronchi climb, drawing out Christian Poos (Luxembourg) and Oleg Chuzhda (Ukraine).
The trio slipped away from the lumbering pack and the gap grew to 17:45 at the end of six laps. Barry (Canada) and Nicholas Roche (Ireland) got caught up in a pileup.
At that, the Italians awoke the peloton from its collective slumber party and ramped up the chase, putting Marzio Bruseghin and Gabriele Bosisio on the front in the seventh lap. The pack roared down the long descent toward Lago di Varese with speeds topping 85kph and quickly hacked four minutes off the trio’s advantage in just one lap.
Halfway up the Ronchi climb in lap 7, Bettini sling-shot Luca Paolini (Italy) away in the first real action out of the main pack. The move was quickly swarmed and Paolini sat up, but Geoffroy Lequatre (France) took the initiative to give a taste of things to come.
There were more punches, with the Belgians and Germans marking the moves, but nothing gelled.
With so much speed, crashes were inevitable. Spain’s Joaquin Rodriguez went down with Maciej Bodnar (Poland), David George (South Africa) and Lars Bak (Denmark) getting caught in the pileup. Rodriguez had problems untangling his bike, but otherwise everyone made it back on.
Bruseghin – who has more than 20 donkeys on his farm in the mountains of northern Italy — maintained the heavy pace, trimming the gap from 11:37 after nine laps to 4:41 at the end of 11 laps.
Belgium added some fresh firepower as Boonen, Nuyens and Gilbert all nosed toward the front of the peloton.
Italians in charge
The Ronchi climb played a critical role in the 12th lap when the race shifted into the decisive final laps.
Bruseghin kept a high pace at the front of the pace and split the bunch, so much so that Bettini had to go to the front to tell his boys to lighten up a little.
Lequatre took another dig as Jurgen Van Goolen (Belgium) led the pack through the start-finish with the leaders just 1:24 off the front. Chuzhda was the last man standing and he got caught midway up the Ronchi climb in the 12th lap.
Cunego made a piercing acceleration on the Via Montcello climb that caused the first real attack out of the group with four laps to go. Marking his wheel was Amael Moinard (France), Rodriguez and Christian Knees (Germany).
Bettini didn’t like the looks of that and quickly bridged out along with several others. Everyone was looking back to see who was in the group, who was bridging out and how far back the main pack was. That doomed that effort.
Hubert Krys (Poland) shot away ahead of the Ronchi climb on the 12th lap, but didn’t last long. Incredibly, it was Bruseghin leading the way for the Italians up the climb for the eighth consecutive lap.
Next it was Ballan to make the attack for the Italians.
The big 2007 Tour of Flanders winner shot away on the upper reaches of the Ronchi climb, dragging with him Bettini, Rodriguez and Juanma Garate of Spain, Kevin De Weert (Belgium), Fabian Wegmann (Germany), Alexander Kolobnev (Russia) and Hrvoje Miholevic (Croatia).
Valverde quickly sensed the danger and bridged across, with Cunego fast on his wheel.
With three Italians and three Spanish, with each big team boasting its respective captains, it was up to the Belgians to chase, with Stijn Devolder and Nuyens leading the hunt.
At the the beginning of the 13th lap, another dozen riders bridged across after heading up the Via Montcello climb before it all came back together on the long descent.
Christophe Le Mevel (France), Frank Hoy (Denmark) and Garate all nosed ahead before the big guns hit the Ronchi climb with just three laps to go.
The distance and speeds started to take its toll on the ever-shrinking front group.
On the Ronchi, Rebellin took responsibility for Italy with Cunego, Rodriguez, Wegmann and Andriy Grivko (Ukraine) hitching a ride. Christian Pfannberger (Austria) bridged across, but Spain didn’t have Freire or Valverde in the move and started to chase.
A lull and sense of caution crept over the pack with two laps to go. Cozza and Farrar were still there for the Americans, but all eyes were on the Spanish and Italian teams.
On the penultimate climb up Ronchi, Ballan accelerated again, dragging with him Rodriguez, Wegmann, Breschel (Denmark) and Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) to open a slender, 15-second lead. Thomas Lovkvist (Sweden) bridged out to nurse a 16-second gap on one group and 28 seconds on a second.
Robert Gesink (Holland) bridged across and then accelerated on the Via Montello climb in the final lap. Chris-Anker Sorensen (Denmark) also took a dig to set up 12 riders off the front for the fast downhill section.
Others bridging across were Rebellin, Pfannberger, Andriy Grivko (Ukraine), Van Goolen and Nuyens and the gap grew to 28 seconds.
The big guns missed the move, but Italy had three in the break.
World Championship Men’s road race
1. Alessandro Ballan (Italy), 260.25km in 6:37:30 (39.3kph),
2. Damiano Cunego (Italy), at 0:03
3. Matti Breschel (Denmark), s.t.
4. Davide Rebellin (Italy), s.t.
5. Andriy Grivko (Ukraine), s.t.
6. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spain), s.t.
7. Fabian Wegmann (Germany), s.t.
8. Christian Pfannberger (Austria), s.t.
9. Nick Nuyens (Belgium), s.t.
10. Robert Gesink (Netherlands), s.t.
11. Jurgen Van Goolen (Belgium), s.t.
12. Thomas Lövkvist (Sweden), s.t.
13. Chris Sörensen (Denmark), at 0:06
14. Assan Bazayev (Kazakhstan), at 0:58
15. Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), s.t.
16. Kristjan Fajt (Slovenia), at 1:01
17. Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium), s.t.
18. Gorazd Stangelj (Slovenia), s.t.
19. Jérôme Pineau (France), at 1:13
20. Vladimir Karpets (Russian Federation), s.t.
21. Sergio Paulinho (Portugal), s.t.
22. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spain), at 1:22
23. Steven Cozza (USA), 1:40
24. Hrvoje Miholjevic (Croatia), s.t.
25. Rubens Bertogliati (Switzerland), at 2:14
26. Amaël Moinard (France), s.t.
27. Alexandre Bazhenov (Russian Federation), at 3:24
28. Paolo Bettini (Italy), at 4:53
29. Erik Zabel (Germany), s.t.
30. Matteo Tosatto (Italy), s.t.
31. Dmitriy Muravyev (Kazakhstan), s.t.
32. Alexander Efimkin (Russian Federation), s.t.
33. Michael Barry (Canada), s.t.
34. Thomas Rohregger (Austria), s.t.
35. Julian Dean (New Zealand), s.t.
36. Janek Tombak (Estonia), s.t.
37. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spain), s.t.
38. Tom Boonen (Belgium), s.t.
39. Oscar Freire Gomez (Spain), s.t.
40. Gustav Larsson (Sweden), s.t.
41. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg), s.t.
41. Sergey Lagutin (Uzbekistan), s.t.
43. Karsten Kroon (Netherlands), s.t.
44. Alexandr Kolobnev (Russian Federation), s.t.
45. Nuno Ribeiro (Portugal), s.t.
46. John Gadret (France), s.t.
47. Stefan Schumacher (Germany), s.t.
48. Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia), s.t.
49. Russell Downing (Great Britain), s.t.
50. Oliver Zaugg (Switzerland), s.t.
51. Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic), s.t.
52. Nicolas Vogondy (France), s.t.
53. Sylvain Chavanel (France), s.t.
54. Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ukraine), s.t.
55. Matthew Lloyd (Australia), s.t.
56. Vladimir Gusev (Russian Federation), s.t.
57. Lars Petter Nordhaug (Norway), at 5:20
58. José Mendes (Portugal), at 8:15
59. Aleksejs Saramotins (Latvia), at 10:33
60. Félix Rafael Cardenas Ravelo (Colombia), s.t.
61. Kjell Carlström (Finland), s.t.
62. Marcus Ljungqvist (Sweden), s.t.
63. Tyler Farrar (USA), s.t.
64. Borut Bozic (Slovenia), s.t.
65. Frank Hoj (Denmark), s.t.
66. Maarten Tjallingii (Netherlands), s.t.
67. Roman Klimov (Russian Federation), at 10:54
68. Hubert Krys (Poland), s.t.
69. Peter Kusztor (Hungary), s.t.
70. Carlos José Ochoa (Venezuela), s.t.
71. Geoffroy Lequatre (France), s.t.
72. Leonardo Duque (Colombia), s.t.
73. José Rujano Guillen (Venezuela), s.t.
74. Oleg Chuzhda (Ukraine), s.t.
75. Olegs Melehs (Latvia), at 11:01
76. Lucas Euser (USA), at 22:49
77. Yukiya Arashiro (Japan), at 22:50
205 Starters, 77 finishers
Did Not Finish
Juan Manuel Garate (Spain)
Kevin De Weert (Belgium)
Christopher Froome (Great Britain)
Gerald Ciolek (Germany)
Kazuo Inoue (Japan)
Stefan Histrov (Bulgaria)
Juan Pablo Dotti (Argentina)
Nebojsa Jovanovic (Serbia)
Alexsandr Dyachenko (Kazakhstan)
Stefan Rucker (Austria)
Volodymyr Zagorodny (Ukraine)
Grégory Rast (Switzerland)
Stijn Devolder (Belgium)
Bram Tankink (Netherlands)
Mario Aerts (Belgium)
Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine)
Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Spain)
Marzio Bruseghin (Italy)
Andrea Tonti (Italy)
Andy Schleck (Luxembourg)
Alberto Contador Velasco (Spain)
Christophe Le Mevel (France)
Ezequiel Mosquera Miguez (Spain)
Danilo Wyss (Switzerland)
Andreas Dietziker (Switzerland)
Christian Knees (Germany)
Michael Rogers (Australia)
Martin Velits (Slovakia)
Luca Paolini (Italy)
André Greipel (Germany)
Robert Mcewen (Australia)
Nikita Eskov (Russian Federation)
David Loosli (Switzerland)
Rein Taaramae (Estonia)
Jackson Rodriguez Ortiz (Venezuela)
Philip Deignan (Ireland)
Daryl Impey (South Africa)
Nelson Victorino (Portugal)
Przemyslaw Niemiec (Poland)
Christian Meier (Canada)
Steven De Jongh (Netherlands)
Marc De Maar (Netherlands)
Koos Moerenhout (Netherlands)
William Walker (Australia)
Zolt Der (Serbia)
Sebastian Lang (Germany)
Tom Stamsnijder (Netherlands)
Marcus Burghardt (Germany)
Vladimir Miholjevic (Croatia)
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)
Anders Lund (Denmark)
Trent Lowe (Australia)
Martin Mares (Czech Republic)
Sandy Casar (France)
Maxime Monfort (Belgium)
Stève Fogen (Luxembourg)
Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez (Colombia)
Simon Gerrans (Australia)
Allan Davis (Australia)
Christian Poos (Luxembourg)
Richard Ochoa Quintero (Venezuela)
Peter Velits (Slovakia)
Thomas Frei (Switzerland)
Matej Stare (Slovenia)
Matija Kvasina (Croatia)
Gabriele Bosisio (Italy)
Evgeny Petrov (Russian Federation)
Dominique Rollin (Canada)
Hidenori Nodera (Japan)
Adam Hansen (Australia)
Frantisek Rabon (Czech Republic)
Christoff Van Heerden (South Africa)
Jempy Drucker (Luxembourg)
Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark)
Maciej Bodnar (Poland)
Richard Mascaranas (Uruguay)
Vincenzo Centrone (Luxembourg)
Muradjan Khalmuratov (Uzbekistan)
Matthew Goss (Australia)
Lars Ytting Bak (Denmark)
David Millar (Great Britain)
Benoît Joachim (Luxembourg)
Manuel Eduardo Medina Marino (Venezuela)
Sebastian Langeveld (Netherlands)
Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spain)
Ignatas Konovalovas (Lithuania)
Kevin Evans (South Africa)
Thomas Geraint (Great Britain)
Stephen Cummings (Great Britain)
Martin Elmiger (Switzerland)
Rodger Aiken (Ireland)
David Zabriskie (USA)
Stéphane Auge (France)
Franklin Chacon Colmenares (Venezuela)
Markus Zberg (Switzerland)
Dariusz Baranowski (Poland)
Grega Bole (Slovenia)
Rida Cador (Hungary)
Gergely Ivanics (Hungary)
Laurent Didier (Luxembourg)
Darren Lill (South Africa)
Brent Bookwalter (USA)
Gerardo Luis Fernandez (Argentina)
Yavheni Hutarovich (Belarus)
Ruslan Podgornyy (Ukraine)
Maros Kovac (Slovakia)
Erki Pütsep (Estonia)
Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway)
Glen Alan Chadwick (New Zealand)
Ricardo Mestre (Portugal)
Henry Mendez Raabe (Costa Rica)
Luis Fernando Macias Hernandez (Mexico)
Normunds Lasis (Latvia)
Robert Hunter (South Africa)
Matti Helminen (Finland)
Boris Shpilevsky (Russian Federation)
Krasimir Vasilev (Bulgaria)
Dragan Spasic (Serbia)
Ian Stannard (Great Britain)
Claude Wolter (Luxembourg)
David George (South Africa)
Markus Fothen (Germany)
Tiago Machado (Portugal)
Nicolas Roche (Ireland)
Vladimir Tuychiev (Uzbekistan)
Lukasz Bodnar (Poland)
Marek Rutkiewicz (Poland)
Adil Jelloul (Morocco)