September 28, 2008 (Varese, Italy) – Alessandro Ballan won Italy’s third World Championship title in as many years with a superbly timed attack in the 260.25km race’s closing stages. With just two kilometres remaining Ballan flew out of a twelve-strong group that had formed from a depleted field on the final Lap 15 with 17.35km to go, that contained no less than three Italians.
The 1.90m tall Lampre professional immediately opened up a small gap and didn’t look back, crossing the line in 6:37:30sec. Team mate Damiano Cunego took the sprint for second, three seconds behind Ballan and Matti Breschel (Den) finished third. Canada’s Michael Barry survived an early crash in the feed zone to finish in the bunch placing 33rd nearly five minutes down.
In the closing stages Barry had tried to bridge across to the leaders, but with so many Italians up ahead, he was constantly shut down by the men in blue. The other Canadians, Dominique Rollin and Christian Meier were unable to match the blistering pace and failed to finish with Rollin calling it quits with four laps to go, and Meier soon after.
The early stages were marked by a three-man breakaway which formed on the second lap. Venezuela’s Richard Ochoa, Christian Poos (Lux) and Oleg Chuzda (Ukr) built up a lead that by the end of lap six had reached 18 minutes.
At this point the Squadra Azzurra sprung into action, went to the front of the pack and immediately started chopping down the time gap. Marzio Bruseghin was the primary pace maker, and the sheer speed of his work spat dozens of riders out of the back of the peloton.
By lap 12, only Chuzda was still going, having dropped his two companions on the Montello, the first of the route’s two climbs,. However he too was brought back into the fold after almost 170km of freedom on the other major hill, the Ronchi, situated 4km from the start/finish.
From there it was attack after attack, but on every occasion the protagonists failed to work together and never gained significant ground. Defending champion Paolo Bettini (Ita), who announced on Saturday that this was to be his last race before retirement, looked strong and was constantly making attempts to get away but was closely marked by the Spanish team.
Ballan had also been extremely active, and on the final ascent of the Ronchi he followed an acceleration by Davide Rebellin (Ita) which proved to be the crucial split. Christian Pfannberger (Aut) and Breschel then tried in vain to escape the grasp of the Italians, but none had the sting of Ballan’s jump, and the 28-year-old was justifiably delighted with his victory.
“I really didn’t think I could win,” he said afterwards to Eurosport TV. “I had cramps in my legs throughout the last couple of laps. I still don’t really realize what’s happening,” Ballan continued. “Having people chanting my name helped me a lot. Everybody, especially the Spaniards, were marking Paolo (Bettini).”
Vincent Jourdain, Canada’s national coach was pleased with his team’s performance. “Michael had a good race finishing in the main group, despite crashing,” said Jourdain. “He was not 100% after that and hurt his back. He’ll be visiting a doctor about it once he gets home.”
“He tried to follow the breaks and to make a move at the end (to get across to the leaders) but this is really hard when you’re the only one there from your team. Our game plan was to have Christian and Dominique protect Michael during the race. Christian did not eat enough and that’s going to give you problems with that kind of distance. It’s hard for them because North America does not have races this long with this kind of intensity.”
Ballan’s victory was a fitting end to the 2008 Road Worlds for the host country Italy, who embraced their hero, as the celebrations are already underway.