Gravel chaos and how team solidarity saved the day

Trek-Segafredo’s quick reaction to an ill-timed puncture on the final gravel sector protects Elisa Longo-Borghini GC standing

‘You may not win the Tour today, but you can certainly lose it.’  

The saying may be cliché, but it rang true for Trek-Segafredo in Tour de France Femmes Stage 4. It was a day of four gravel sectors where anything could happen, and for Trek-Segafredo all was smooth (well as smooth a gravel can be) sailing for three of the four.

On the fourth all hell broke loose when Elisa Longo Borghini punctured at the moment Kasia Niewiadoma launched a searing attack from the yellow jersey group. Marlen Reusser was already up the road with no threat to the general classification, but Niewiadoma’s acceleration drew out the GC rivals as Elisa slipped backward. Fast. Like a sinking boat, panic set in.

“Everything was going well until the last sector when I punctured,” explained Elisa. “Elisa (Balsamo) was straight to me and gave me her bike. It was really, really good, or else I would have lost a lot of seconds, I think.”

Elisa Balsamo chases on her spare bike.

Balsamo’s quick reaction had Longo Borghini back on the saddle – albeit a little higher – and back in the race with little time lost.

“The measurements are almost the same between me and Elisa; her saddle height is a tiny bit higher and her stem a little shorter; it was not the best, but it worked!” added Longo Borghini.

The best young rider of the UCI Women’s WorldTour was waiting. But Shirin van Anrooij’s effort to help Longo Borghini was futile.

“Shirin was waiting for me and tried to bring me back, but she had two flat tires!” exclaimed Longo Borghini.

They say bad luck comes in threes. After Longo Borghini’s puncture, van Anrooij checked off numbers two and three.

Fortunately, Trek-Segafredo still had one more rider to help: the powerful engine of Ellen van Dijk.  With Ellen’s help, Longo Borghini was soon back in the yellow jersey group.

“Ellen did wait for me, and we didn’t have the time to change back the bike, but it was fine. Ellen rode me back to the peloton, which was amazing,” praised Longo Borghini.

The European Champ was evident at the front all race.

While the action was playing out differently for Trek-Segafredo, in the front of the race, Marlen Reusser increased her lead in a solo effort. Reusser held on to take the win while a three-rider chase group grabbed the minor places. The yellow jersey led home the peloton – 23 riders – all that remained after a day of gravel chaos.

Elisa Longo Borghini crossed the line in 9th place, and rolled to a stop. Her 4th place in the overall classification safe.  “The team did amazing today,” were her first words.

The rainbow bike saved the day!

Cycling is a team sport, and it took a full-team effort to keep Elisa Longo Borghini in the top spots on the GC. And, as always, she was first to give them credit.

“The whole team did a great job: Audrey (Cordon-Ragot) was always keeping me in front, Leah (Thomas) was going back to the car to deliver me bottles. I am proud of them; I am proud of Trek-Segafredo,” said Longo Borghini, then added:

“It doesn’t happen in many teams that you see the World Champion give up the bike. It was an honor to ride her bike to the finish!”

The Team's unsung heroes: Audrey pulled hard into the first gravel sector. 📷 A.S.O./Fabien Boukla

Leah Thomas: a dusty, dirty workhorse. 📷 A.S.O./Fabien Boukla

At the finish, Shirin can smile about her (strange) bad luck.

Photo Gallery by Jojo Harper