Alessandro Ballan rides with the rainbow stripes – he earned the right to wear them for a lifetime with his victory in Varese in 2008.
The 41-year-old Italian has ridden in the toughest competitions around the world, and succeeded where it matters most: in the Worlds, in the Spring Classics, winning stage races and taking a mountain stage at La Vuelta where he wore the leader’s red jersey.
Now, like a lot of road cyclists, he’s spending more time adventuring off-road and has been bitten by the gravel scene.
Alessandro rides Ekar with a 40T chainring and 9-42T cassette combination on his BMC URS gravel bike.
We caught up with him heading out on an autumn ride to get his reflections on a year using the new Campagnolo Ekar gravel groupset. In his career as a cyclist, amatuer, pro and post-retirement, Alessandro has seen significant developments in bike technology, not least the drivetrain:
“I started racing back in 1986, I had a 6-speed groupset and the gear shifter was on the frame,” he remembers. “Technology has made great strides since then! It's important to be able to change fast after a corner or at the final sprint. Also on the climb you need to have a lot of gears so the choice of the groupset is fundamental. And the pace of that development has increased. "
After spending around a year using Ekar – having tested several prototypes and shared his feedback as an experienced pro into the development process.
Alessandro is very happy with the speed and smoothness of the 1x13-speed system’s changes:
“It’s very fast and always fluid shifting when you go slowly but also when you make a sprint and need a very reactive shifting.”
Where he lives and rides regularly in Italy is relatively flat, but it’s close to the Alps, so the terrain at hand is a mixed, interesting and as challenging as he chooses:
“I use Ekar everywhere like dirt roads, normal roads and mountains with different conditions – it’s even best for me in the rain,” says Alessandro. “My normal training ride might be three hours flat along the river, then up and down for about 500 meters elevation, with technical elements, and return home. I guess some of the longest and toughest rides includes four hours to climb Monte Grappa: it's a really steep climb with a lot of white roads.”
It’s on these rides that ‘Bontempino’ has enjoyed Ekar’s wide range of gear ratios:
“It works very well because I can use the smallest sprocket on descents and the larger one on very hard climbs,” he explains. “13 gears makes a difference on all routes. My favorite thing about Ekar is 13 speeds and not having the second gear lever.”
What goes up must come down... Alessandro also gives Ekar’s brakes a big thumbs up!
“I love the disc brake. The grip and the ergonomics of the brakes are excellent – the very powerful braking stops the bike without problems. “I have big hands and I immediately adapted to the grip and even in the wet the rubber prevents slipping.”
We’ll have plenty of wet weather soon – fun for off-road and ideal developing new skills and making new stories.
But Alessandro is already looking forward beyond the winter:
“Next summer I want to ride Veneto Gravel. It's a local race – all gravel!”
If you’re planning a gravel race in the future, or if you’re a road rider looking to make your first adventures in gravel riding, Alessandro leaves us with his advice, from a World Champion to you:
“In gravel riding you have to take better care of the surface because the bike is in more direct contact with dirt. And you must always pay extra attention at the corners, because going round bends on gravel is not like on asphalt.”