Tributes pour in for two-time Paris-Roubaix winner who coached Azzurri to four world championships and an Olympic gold

The world of cycling is today mourning the death at 45 years of age of Italy’s national coach, Franco Ballerini, who has died from injuries sustained in a crash this morning during a rally in Larciano, Tuscany, where he was acting as navigator in a car driven by Alessandro Ciardi.

Ballerini died in hospital in Pistoia, where he had been taken after the pair’s Renault Clio came off the road. Ciardi is in serious condition, although his injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.

Born in Florence, Ballerini won Paris-Roubaix twice, his first victory coming in 1995, two years after he had been beaten on the line in the Roubaix velodrome by Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle. His other victories during a career in which he rode for teams such as Del Tongo, Mapei and Lampre-Daikin included the Giro del Piemonte and the Giro della Romagna as well as Paris Brussels.

In 2001, Ballerini became coach of the Italian national cycling team. Under his tutelage, the azzurri 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.

According to the Gazzetta dello Sport, Bettini had been due to take part in the Rally Ronde del Larciano with Ballerini – the close friends participated in six rallies together, with Bettini as driver and Ballerini as navigator – but was unable to do so as a result being busy organising yesterday’s Gran Premio Costa degli Etruschi bike race.

The newspaper said that Ballerini had wanted to compete in the rally, held on his home roads, at all costs, and as news of his death spread, a clearly upset Bettini was reported to have arrived in tears at the hospital in Pistoia, where he comforted Ballerini’s wife.

The sports daily said that the accident happened as the car passed through a forested section of the rally’s route between Casa al Vento and Larciano, the car coming off the road and hitting a wall head-on, with most of the damage done to the side of the car that Ballerini was in. Although first-aid was provided on the spot, there was little that could be done.

Tributes have flooded in for Ballerini, many from people connected to the sport of cycling who use the social networking website, Twitter. Lance Armstrong said: “So sad to hear of passing of Franco Ballerini. Raced many years w/ him. Cool guy and great champ. Leaves behind a wife and 2 kids. RIP, FB,” while Bradley Wiggins stated that Team Sky’s win in the opening team time trial of the Tour of Qatar had been “overshadowed by the death of a great champion.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.