“Julian said that today was my day and that I had the legs to win,” Ballerini said after scoring victory. “When the world champion says something like that, it gives some extra strength.”
Ballerini, 26, capped a dominant day from his Decuninck-Quick-Step team Saturday. The Belgian squad controlled the race almost throughout, monitoring the early break before placing Alaphilippe, Ballerini and Zdenek Štybar in an attack group that went clear for some 15km in the final hour of racing before being neutralized.
The team effort was finished off to perfection with Florian Sénéchal positioning Ballerini for the final kick before the Italian powered away from Sep Vanmarcke to win the opening classic of the season.
“I am really happy, it is a childhood dream come true,” Ballerini said. “The team believed in me from the start. That I win is the best way to repay the confidence of the team.”
Ballerini has enjoyed a red-hot start to the season, taking two wins at his season debut in Tour de la Provence earlier this month. When asked if he had the form to win Gent-Wevelgem in late March, a race well-suited to his sprinter skillset, the rising young star tamped down expectations, but assured that Deceuninck-Quick-Step would be as present as ever.
“I don’t make any predictions, I look at it day by day,” he said. “I will first ride a few races in Italy, but Gent-Wevelgem will certainly be a good fight again. We want to be competitive again like today.”