Ballan's Belgian machine
By Gregor Brown
70 km of pre-Ronde training
Mizuno's fork with extra
36 holes in the front hub
Fresh off a morning training ride, Alessandro Ballan's Lampre-Fondital
Wilier Le Roi was basking in the warmth of the Belgian spring sunshine.
His Sigma computer read 69 kilometres (43 miles) but the Le Roi frame
looked like it wanted (and was ready for) much more.
Just one day before we spotted it outside the Kennedy Hotel in Kortrijk,
Belgium, Ballan's machine had delivered the 27 year-old to glory in
the Three Days of De Panne where he escaped with compatriot Luca Paolini
in Stage 1. Ballan used his Wilier machine to hold on for second place
that day, but then took the overall win two days later, securing him
as one of the favourites for Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Produced by Wilier Triestina in Rossano Veneto, just south of Bassano
del Grappa, the Wilier Le Roi frame has been around a few seasons and
is well respected by the boys in the Italian squad. Wilier used individual
Mizuno carbon tubes and tube-to-tube construction for the Le Roi last
year, but has swapped to monocoque construction for 2007. Lighter riders,
like teammate Damiano Cunego, are using Wilier's new ultralight Cento
model, but Ballan prefers the extra rigidity and versatility of the
Le Roi which still comes in under the 1kg mark at a quoted 990g. "I
am using this carbon bike and it is really light [7.2kg total - ed.],"
said Ballan. "I use here on the pavé and also on normal
roads throughout the year."
Ballan and team mechanic Antonio Biron made a slight change for the
Belgian races. "I requested a fork that has more rake than what
I usually use in the other months," Ballan continued. "It
is better over the pavé because it allows for more comfort."
While prepping the bikes for the following Sunday's Ronde, Biron pointed
out that it is only Ballan that made the fork change; other riders were
still set up with straight-bladed Mizuno carbon forks.
"The team mostly uses these three-cross wheels in training,"
Biron added as we looked at Ballan's wheels, which use Campagnolo Record
hubs laced to tubular box-section rims. At 1.9 metres tall (6' 2"),
Ballan needs a little extra strength and support when he rides, and
the Italian rider runs 36 spokes up front as a result.
"For the races we will switch over to Campagnolo Proton wheels,
still using tubulars with these tyres," continued Biron, referring
to the team's Vittoria Pavé Evo treads. Ballan admittedly does
not have that much time on those wheels, but apparently still feels
confident enough to use them in key events. "I tried at Harelbeke
[E3 Prijs] and I will probably use them on Sunday [for Ronde]. They
work really well; they are very rigid enough for my use," summarized
the 72kg (159lb) rider.
The Ronde van Vlaanderen course is littered with eighteen short and
sharp pitches which will demand a lot from the rider and his machine,
and Ballan tested his Le Roi on some of the same famed Hellingen (or
'climbs') that he will experience on Sunday. "Today we went to
see the climbs. We did the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg and a couple other
climbs.... We took a look at the zones where we think the selection
will be made."
The Kwaremont may prove particularly decisive climb at 2200 metre (1.37mi)
long, 1600 metres (1mi) of which are covered with nasty Belgian cobbles.
If all goes well for Ballan, it will prove to be a perfect place to
see the Le Roi perform to its maximum.
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