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Ballan plots his payback in Roubaix

Embattled Italian aiming to pay back BMC Racing for three tough years with Roubaix win

KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — Alessandro Ballan is planning a big payback. From his room in the Hotel Broel, he sees journalists coming and going and knows what they’re thinking: “He hasn’t won anything in a long time,” and “He’s linked to that doping investigation.”

The BMC Racing riders and staff “have shown how close they are to me and I want to pay them back,” he told VeloNews. “I’d like to give them a win, something I haven’t yet been able to do in those last three years.”

Ballan is eyeing Paris-Roubaix Sunday. He has already finished third on the velodrome twice, in 2006 and 2008, and found confidence in his third-place finish at the Tour of Flanders Sunday.

The performance comes after a few difficult years. Ballan won Flanders in 2007 and a world championship in 2008, but since then, he’s been quiet. He hears the critics: “Sure, he can make the key move in Flanders on the Kwaremont, but he can’t get rid of Tom Boonen or Filippo Pozzato.”

“I went through three difficult years, with a virus that I had when I was still world champion. It was hard to return. I changed teams, found new teammates… A little bit of everything. It was truly hard,” he explained.

“However, last year, I was also at a high level. I did not make the key move in Flanders, but I was there [with] Philippe Gilbert. It was the same at Roubaix when Fabian Cancellara and Thor Hushovd attacked. So my form is what it was last year, but this year I have something extra in my head.”

Ballan is racing to give BMC a win, but also for Franco, his wife’s father who died of a heart attack last Wednesday.

“I was close with him. It was like losing my own dad, who died 15 years ago,” said Ballan. “My kids saw more of Franco than me, so you can imagine.”

The same day Franco died, the head prosecutor in the 2008 Mantova investigation requested the indictment of Ballan and several former riders and staff members from the Italian Lampre team. Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport wrote last year that Ballan had used human growth hormone, blood transfusions and Erythropoietin (EPO) in 2009.

“I’ve not had time to think about it this week because I’ve had other stuff to think about,” he said.

Asked if he’d be found guilty, he said, “You don’t know what they’re going to do. I’m only thinking of the races. The only thing is the time that’s passed; it’s been three years that this is going on and I don’t think this is right.”

He wants to attack for Franco and ride away from the Mantova investigation. Given the chance, he said that he’d make his move in the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector at 16 kilometers to race. He added, “It’s not going to be easy.”