Not known for her sprint, Elisa Longo Borghini makes it count in Flanders

The Italian National Champion finishes 4th and moves back into the WorldTour lead

It’s hard to tell Elisa Longo Borghini that she did a good race.  The Italian champion mustered up one of her best sprints and bettered plenty of faster legs in the chase group that arrived at the finish behind solo winner Annemiek van Vleuten.

The sprint was to sort out the second and third steps of the podium, and Elisa finished fourth. But in her mind, it was not good enough.

“I have mixed feelings because I was really hoping that the group behind with Lizzie (Deignan) and Ellen (van Dijk) would come back. I had the order not to work with the others – of course because I am the slowest of the bunch,” stated Elisa. “If Lizzie would have been there, we could have actually gone for a podium place. I felt a little bit sorry that I was the one there.

“We had a strong race; I think we rode really well as a team,” she acknowledged. “And Audrey again! She’s always sacrificing herself for the team.  I am just sorry for the fourth, but it is what it is.”

How it unfolded

The race-winning move came on the Paterberg. But before that, Audrey Cordon-Ragot spent a significant amount of time in a solo move, building up a lead of 45 seconds until she was reeled in on the Oude-Kwaremont.

Grace Brown launched the first attack on the Kwaremont, which Van Vleuten followed. However, the pair were brought back just after the top, and a select group, including Longo Borghini, started the Paterberg together.

Then Van Vleuten took to the front and set a pace that no one could follow. Longo Borghini was the second over the top, leading a small group eight seconds behind the Movistar rider. With 13 flat kilometers to Oudenaarde, the race seemed far from finished.

“The Paterberg was so hard – it felt like I was burning alive! Annemiek went from the bottom, and I thought at one point I thought that we could come back to her because she was on the fence. But then she just opened the gas and just went.”

Longo-Borghini took a back seat in the chase.  There was a possibility everything could come back together, and with the fast legs of Deignan not far behind, a chance the team could still grab a significant result.

However, Van Vleuten held her lead, the second group never rejoined, and Elisa had no choice: she must sprint.

“Yeah, I think I made a nice sprint,” Longo Borghini finally admitted and then added, “but it was not enough. I feel so sorry because I feel that I let the team down. I was really hoping that they would come back.”

It was an excellent sprint for a rider who proclaimed she was the slowest legs in the group. And it leaped-frogged Longo Borghini back into the leader’s jersey in the Women’s WorldTour.

“It’s always nice to wear the jersey, it shows that we are a strong team, and I want to thank all the teammates,” added Elisa. “And Audrey was really good in getting in the break and sacrificing herself again for the team tactic. We were really committed; we all did our best, and this is the most important. On to the next one.”