A thrilling showdown in final mountains

Elisa Longo Borghini hunts for the overall podium of the Giro d'Italia

A great battle ensued over three successive mountain stages at the Giro d’Italia, culminating with a thrilling Stage 9 Saturday.

Over the three days, Elisa Longo Borghini seemingly gained strength with each climb. While she determined that the general classification was not a goal, after two mountain stages the Trek-Segafredo Italian sat in 4th place overall.  Goal or not, she was in striking distance of the final podium.

After Elisa finished 3rd in Stage 8 and pared back some time to Mavi Garcia (UAE), anything seemed possible in the Queen Stage. However, Elisa needed three minutes and 20 seconds – a massive effort or a complete breakdown by the UAE Spaniard – to land the overall podium.

But if we know Elisa, she was always going to try.

Clearly mine and the Team's goal is always to win, but I think our duty as riders, as athletes, is also to put on a show. The world comes from a difficult period, with the pandemic, and there’s an ongoing war almost on our doorstep. The goal of our work must also be to provide excitement, fun and real emotion. People follow us because of that. When I race, when I compete, I try never to forget that.

- Elisa Longo Borghini

It all began to play out on the final mountain of the race. Marta Cavalli and Annemiek Van Vleuten proved again to be the top two climbers and pulled away. Once again, Elisa let them go, not trying to match their pace. She settled into her rhythm while Garcia struggled.

In front, Kristen Faulkner (Bike Exchange) led the race after attacking on the first climb of the stage and eventually dropping her breakaway companions. She crested the final mountain solo with enough time to hold on and take a gutsy win.  But our eyes were on what was happening behind.

Over the top of the final climb and onto the technical descent the battle ensued. Elisa’s descending skills brought her to the wheels of Van Vleuten and Cavalli by the bottom. Meanwhile Garcia found a group for company behind.

Today's descent, where I was able to take advantage, was new for me. I rode it on intuition, but as I already said, a descent is pure fun for me. I got a few trajectories wrong, due to some fatigue after a hard week, but I always managed to correct and not take excessive risks.

- Elisa Longo Borghini

Descent done, an undulating 17-kilometer run-in remained.

Elisa put her head down. While she had Van Vleuten and Cavalli with her, she did most of the work. Behind in the second group, Garcia did the same.

While the gap steadily grew, the kilometers ticked away faster. The clock favored Garcia.

In the last 20 kilometers of the stage, after receiving the info that Mavi Garcia was losing time, I cultivated for the first time the idea of trying to challenge her for third place. I was there, nothing to lose and I thought 'let’s get through this'.

Mavi’s gap in GC was anyway not small and she’s strong, but it was okay to believe and try at that point. However, congratulations also to UAE-Emirates because they also showed strength and compactness. For my part, I am again very satisfied with the performance.

- Elisa Longo Borghini

In the last two kilometers, Cavalli attacked. She pulled away and grabbed second place behind Faulkner. Elisa crossed moments later with Van Vleuten on her wheel, taking the four bonus seconds for third place.

The clock ticked. Then Garcia appeared. While Garcia faltered, she did not fail. Ultimately, she crossed the line with 49 seconds to spare and saved her third place in GC.

We always have a plan, an idea on how to interpret the stage. In these last days we have seen athletes in great form who have shown to have something more than me. Despite that, even today we were not discouraged, and we managed the race according to our strategy.

We were never afraid to take responsibility for pulling the peloton in this Giro, either when the goal was a sprint finish or an uphill stage. I think, once again, it’s a demonstration of our Team strength and consistency in pursuing our goals.

It was a thrilling battle over the last of the Giro’s mountains, and Elisa’s – and the entire Team’s – performance was worthy of the final podium.  That will have to be for another time, perhaps in a few weeks even.

For now, one more day remains and capturing a third stage win their only focus.

After the Giro I will stay in altitude, at Sestriere, together with my fiancé Jacopo (Mosca). It will be a crucial break and rest period ahead of the Tour de France, to recover mind and body in view of a big challenge.

- Elisa Longo Borghini