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Davide Ballerini has victories in his legs and rockets in his heels. And after a speedy start to the season, the 26-year-old is poised to become Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s answer to the Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel conundrum.
Ballerini hit the ground running this season, winning his first two races of the year at the Tour de la Provence, and just a fortnight later, scoring a career-topping win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Having also scored a series of top-10s at Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this month, the young Italian now returns to the cobbles where he will take center stage in the races he loves most.
“He always liked the classics,” sport director Tom Steels told VeloNews. “Taking that win at Omloop was really important for him, his confidence. But also for us and the coming weeks. He will have a different position now, he’ll be protected.”
Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s latest lead wolf will be front-and-center in the team’s ambitions at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem this week as they take on the growing might of van Aert and van der Poel. And although the “Wolfpack” has found itself in the unusual position of playing defense against the two top dogs of the classics scene so far this year, they may have found their own sprinting, climbing, cobble-bashing answer to the dominant duo.
“He is solid on the bike, he can position like nobody else. He’s fast, and he can climb pretty well, especially on those short climbs, but also on the longer ones,” Steels said. “He has some similar qualities to van Aert and van der Poel – very strong, good on the fast climbs, and he can sprint.”
The young Italian has moved up the pecking order in Quick-Step’s “pack” this winter after his prolific start to the season. After transferring across from Astana at the start of 2020, the new recruit was squeezed out of the selection for last year’s fall classics and instead sent to the Giro d’Italia, where he scooped his first grand tour podium.
This year, the 26-year-old has pounced on every opportunity afforded to him, with Omloop victory putting a cap on a lifelong ambition.
“I remember watching this team crushing the cobbles when I was a kid, so to win now one of these races while wearing this jersey gives me huge pride, it’s a big dream that came true today,” Ballerini said after standing atop the podium in Ninove. “The ‘opening weekend’ is a big deal for Deceuninck-Quick-Step and I’m glad we made a lot of people happy with this win.”
Ballerini heeft de beste sprint en wint de Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2021! pic.twitter.com/eHCcpSE6MH
— Sporza 🚴 (@sporza_koers) February 27, 2021
Ballerini could mean a lot more for his team than a prestigious win at the classics curtain-raiser last month – he could be Dececuninck-Quick-Step’s key to tearing down the “Mathieu van Wout” show. Julian Alaphilippe is the one rider currently vying with the two powerhouses, but perhaps lacks the massive watts of his two rivals. Ballerini may be closer to the mold, however, packing muscle and speed and some climbing ability.
“He has that big power to go with the best on the climbs,” Steels said. “And the big benefit for us is that we again have somebody who is really really fast to come in bunch sprints, but also can survive on the climbs and that tactically is a very, very important tool in a team.”
Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s new lead wolf
Ballerini will be a part of strong Deceuninck-Quick-Step squads at this week’s E3 and Gent-Wevelgem, sharing a startsheet with the likes of Sam Bennett, Zdenek Štybar, and Yves Lampaert. And though the 26-year-old may not share his elders’ experience, he will be afforded their importance.
“’Ballero’ is in the form of his life. We’ve got another team leader because he’s as quick as a bunny,” Quick-Step stalwart Lampaert told Sporza after seeing his young teammate win Omloop. “I’ve seen how strong and fast he is during our training camp. There’s no doubt that we’ve got another team leader.”
Ballerini has the team behind him and the bit at his teeth. The burly youngster is the Italian Flandrien poised to take the cobblestones by storm.