My Ronde Van Vlaanderen all uphill: an unforgettable victory

Alessandro Ballan recounts the highlights of an extraordinary moment in his career. 

Words by Miriam | Photography by Miriam | Styling by Beatrice

31 March 2023 

A stormy eve

Like the night before exams, of that Ronde Van Vlaanderen in 2007, I remember the night before very well. I was in good shape, I had been well prepared for that important event and I had won the Brugge-De Panne a few days before, in short, I was charged up. But the pressure was on and I was in the room with Fabio Baldato, so it was a real race to see who would be able to fall asleep first because – let’s just say – he’s not exactly a very quiet sleeper. I lost that night and couldn’t get to sleep until four in the morning, it was at that point that I called the team doctor to see if I could do anything. I really couldn’t miss such a special occasion because of a sleepless night. While I was ringing, Fabio also woke up and reassured me. He told me that he too hadn’t slept got more than a few hours that night either, the eve of the Milano Sanremo in which he came second, it was normal. Everything was going to be fine.

Eventually I fell asleep and stood at the starting line the next day in a state that did not bode well for me.

A race all uphill 

The race started in the worst possible way. I felt really bad and I seemed to be continuing only by force of inertia. It was my first time as undisputed team leader and my teammates were constantly asking me if they should go ahead and set the pace but I was telling them to hold the wheel. It was not my day. 

Then the turning point came when we had 40 kilometres to go and a breakaway of seven riders – including Fabian Cancellara – got away. It was Fabio again – he was a bit like our sports director in the race – He asked me what to do. I told him I wasn’t feeling well, that it was pointless to work but once again, he reassured me, told me that I would get unstuck and, on his own initiative, he put the team in front to go full throttle. Guido Bontempi who was in the flagship car got very angry at this thoughtless gesture and I, for my part, did not want the situation to get worse. So, once I caught up with the escapees, I thought I had to make sense of all that incredible teamwork.  So I sprinted up the Geraardsbergen and from there… the rest is history! Cycling is like that, everything can change in a short period of time and the wind can turn from a headwind to a tailwind in just a few kilometres. 


Winning a Monumental Classic

The finish was something else. Winning a Ronde is something special and unforgettable, you carry it in your heart forever. Embracing my teammates is something I remember most vividly, perhaps because it was they who had faith in me, even when I had none. Having the legs is important, believing in them even more so.