Franco Ballerini: Coach of the Italian national cycling team

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The Independent Online

The coach of the Italian national cycling team Franco Ballerini, who died on 7 February aged 45, was a former cyclist himself who twice won the prestigious Paris-Roubaix race, in 1995 and 1998.

The Italian died after an accident in the Rally Ronde del Larciano in Tuscany, when he was acting as co-driver for his close friend and compatriot Alessandro Ciardi, who was seriously injured in the crash.

As well as his two Paris-Roubaix victories, Ballerini, pictured right, during his cycling days, also won the Paris-Brussels race in 1990. A native of Florence, he became Italian team coach in 2001 and led the national team at the World Championships and Olympic Games. Under his tutelage, the squad enjoyed a string of successes, with Mario Cipollini, Alessandro Ballan and Paolo Bettini all winning the World Road Race Championship, the latter twice, and Bettini also taking gold in that event at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

"As well as being my national coach for five years, he was also a friend," the 2008 world road champion Ballan said. "He'd call me to ask how I was but also to ask about my family and we talked about everything. I've lost a friend.

"I'll always remember the smile on his face after me and [Paolo] Bettini won our world titles. I'm just happy I was able to win him his last world title.

"He always managed to create a special atmosphere in the team at the world championships. We were all rivals in other races but on the day of the world championships, thanks to him, it was all for one and one for all."

The accident happened as the car passed through a forested section of the rally's route between Casa al Vento and Larciano. The car left the road and hit a wall head-on, with most of the damage done to the side of the car that Ballerini was in. He leaves a wife and two children.