EKE, Belgium — Alessandro Ballan’s smiling face was beamed via Skype from Italy back to Belgium during the team presentation Friday at BMC’s concept store and the Italian couldn’t have been happier.
Ballan, 33, returned home to Veneto for the first time since crashing December 21 in a training spill in Spain that left him with a broken femur, cracked ribs, a ruptured spleen and punctured lung.
“I am very happy to be in my own bed,” Ballan said. “I want to thank my fans and my team for all the support.”
Ballan seemed relieved to return home after his nasty fall while descending a narrow mountain road along Spain’s Mediterranean coast.
The 2008 world champion left the hospital Thursday and arrived in northern Italy on Friday. Ballan will continue recovery and rehab at home, yet it remains unknown when he will return to the sport.
Ballan is all but sure to miss this year’s spring classics campaign and could be sidelined for much of the 2013 season.
Missing out on classics
His absence will be felt during the spring classics.
Last year, with Thor Hushovd ill and Philippe Gilbert off his top form, Ballan stepped up and scored BMC’s only podiums in the northern classics, posting third in both Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Despite recruiting Gilbert and Hushovd with big-money contracts, BMC was blanked in the spring classics last season.
“His absence will be noted because he’s one of the best riders in the world in the classics,” said reigning world champion Gilbert. “It’s always good to have extra cards to play in the classics. He will be missed, but the most important thing is that he recovers.”
Despite Ballan’s injury, BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz said the team will be battling for one of the monuments with a healthy roster in 2013.
Hushovd is back in fighting health, Gilbert will be racing in the rainbow jersey, and Greg van Avermaet seems poised for a breakthrough.
“One of our top goals is to have a BMC winner in one of the classics,” Ochowicz said. “2012 was okay. We were competitive, but we had some health issues.”
Without a doubt, a healthy BMC will be formidable in the spring classics, whether pounding across the cobbles or grinding over the Ardennes.
Hushovd is targeting Paris-Roubaix as his season’s top goal as part of a heavy emphasis on the northern classics, starting with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad all the way through Roubaix.
Gilbert will be super-motivated to be racing the spring classics while donning the rainbow jersey and will take aim at all the major dates, except Paris-Roubaix.
Behind the superstars, there is largely unsung Van Avermaet, who keeps nipping at the edge of a major victory, including fourth at Flanders.
Taylor Phinney, who rode to a top-20 for the best American debut in Roubaix, will be thundering across the cobbles full of hope and ambition.
Marcus Burghardt, Manuel Quinziato, Michael Schar and even Cadel Evans, who promises to race in support of Gilbert in the Ardennes, round out BMC’s classics roster.
Hushovd said it’s time for the team to deliver a major classics victory.
“We will miss (Ballan) for sure, because last year he was the one who carried the team,” he said. “We have a strong team to go for the classics. Now it’s up to us to win.”