Two-time Paris-Roubaix champion and Italian national coach Franco Ballerini has died from injuries suffered in a rally car accident on Sunday.
The 45-year-old Ballerini was serving as co-driver and navigator in a rally car driven by Alessandro Ciardi when the Renault Clio Sport R3 crashed into a wall on a stretch of forested road between Casa al Vento and Larciano in Tuscany, Italy.
According to Gazetta Dello Sport, the car rolled off the road and landed on the passenger side, seriously injuring Ballerini. Although the medical staff were able to quickly render assistance, Ballerini’s injuries were so severe that he died within hours at a hospital in Pistoia. According to the Italian news agency, Ansa, Ciardi is in a coma at the same hospital. Officials are still investigating the cause of the accident.
Ballerini began his professional career on the old Magniflex team in 1986, but his fascination with the “Hell of the North” began well before that.
“I was supporter of (Francesco) Moser, without actually knowing why,” he recalled. “It was 1980 and I had just finished an amateurs’ race and went to watch Paris-Roubaix in a bar near the finish. I got there in time to see Moser enter the (Roubaix) velodrome. When he raised his arms in victory, I got goosebumps. My love of Paris-Roubaix was born that day … in front of a TV in a bar in Tuscany.”
He rode his first Paris-Roubaix in 1989. As a member of GB-MG-Maglificio, Ballerini narrowly lost the 1993 edition of Paris-Roubaix to Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle. He was a member of the seemingly unbeatable Mapei-GB squad in the mid-1990s, when he won the race in 1995 and 1998.
Ballerini also won Paris-Brussels in 1990 and the 1995 edition of the Omloop Het Volk. Ballerini retired in 2001, after taking a last shot at Paris-Roubaix, sporting a jersey with the words “Thank you Roubaix.”
He then took over as coach of the Italian national cycling team. He was credited with bringing a degree of unanimity to an Italian team that had often been plagued by the competing interests of immensely talented professional riders.
Under Ballerini’s guidance, Italian riders won four world championships – Mario Cipollini (2002), Paolo Bettini (2006, 2007) and Alessandro Ballan (2008) – and an Olympic title in Athens (2004), when Bettini earned the gold medal in the road race.
Ballerini is survived by his wife Sabrina and their two children.
Ballerini at Paris-Roubaix
Magniflex (1986 and 1987)
Del Tongo (1988)
Del Tongo (1990 and 1991)
GB-MG-Maglificio (1992 and 1993)
Mapei (1994 1998)
Lampre (1999 and 2000)