Italian Alessandro Ballan confirmed that he is on track for the Tour of Flanders with a close but convincing win in the Three Days of De Panne. The Lampre rider finished the four-stage, three day race just six seconds up on Rabobank?s Joost Posthuma and 11 ahead of Bart Roesems of the Predictor-Lotto team.
Whilst not winning a single stage, Ballan had placed consistently throughout the race. After forming part of a two-up breakaway on stage one with fellow Italian Luca Paolini (Liquigas), the 27-year-old was well-placed in the two bunch sprints which followed on Wednesday and Thursday morning (the latter won by Geert Steegmans of the Quick Step squad). Finally Ballan was not too far off the pace in the final 11 kilometre time trial on Thursday afternoon, won by Discovery Channel?s Stijn Devolder.
Second in De Panne back in 2005, Ballan?s results in last year?s northern Classics combined with this win make him a very serious challenger for Sunday?s Tour of Flanders. In 2006, the third year pro was second only to Boonen in terms of consistency in the two cobbled Monuments, placing third in the in Paris-Roubaix and fifth in Flanders. He was also in the top three at Harelbeke last year.
?I didn?t know how I would perform in this last time trial because I?m no genius against the clock.? Ballan told reporters afterwards. ?But if the time trial is short like this one, then I?ve got a chance of doing all right.?
?I?m still not at 100 percent, but the form?s getting better all the time. We?ll have to see what happens on Sunday, but I?m more optimistic now than I was three days ago.?
Britain?s David Millar came within a mere eight seconds of repeating his 1998 win in the time trial stage of De Panne. The Saunier Duval pro – who is racing in Flanders on Sunday – was six seconds down on Devolder at the turn on the pancake flat, exposed circuit. Despite turning on the gas on the second part of the course, Millar just missed taking his second victory of 2007.