The sweetest way to win

Elisa Longo Borghini and Gaia Realini round off a great day of teamwork to take 1st and 2nd in the Queen Stage with one flat stage remaining

How it happened

After two stages of crosswind chaos, Stage 3 presented the additional obstacle of a summit finish atop Jebel Hafeet, a 10.8km climb at 6.7% average gradient, which has often been the decisive stage in the men’s event.

The five Trek-Segafredo riders were motivated from the outset, and Elynor Backstedt, Lauretta Hanson and Ilaria Sanguineti got to work to protect the Italian climbing duo: Longo Borghini and Realini. Shortly after the feed zone, still with 60km to go, the crosswinds began to whittle down the peloton, but Longo Borghini and Realini were always kept out of trouble by their teammates. With some key rivals in trouble due to the wind, Trek-Segafredo and Team DSM worked hard at the head of the peloton to drive the pace, keeping the dropped riders at bay.

By the time the peloton was at the foot of Jebel Hafeet it numbered no more than 20 riders. The group continued to shed riders, and at 7.8km to go Realini moved to the front to set the pace for her leader. One by one the other riders cracked under the pressure Realini was applying. Before they knew it, the Trek-Segafredo duo were all that remained of the leaders, still with five kilometers remaining. Realini continued to set the pace, before Longo Borghini relayed with her compatriot in the later slopes. After her hard work and commitment to her leader, Realini would have been a deserving winner, however the time bonuses on offer would have pushed her ahead of Longo Borghini in the GC, so DS Paolo Slongo made the call for Longo Borghini to cross the line first.

The Trek-Segafredo show of force leaves the Italian duo first and second in the General Classification with one flat (albeit windy) stage left to race.

The winner’s words

“This is the way you always dream to win, together with your teammate,” beamed Elisa Longo Borghini. “Today we owe a lot to Gaia Realini, for me she was the MVP of the day. She was just incredible, she set a hard pace and all of a sudden we were alone. We said we just need to go this pace together and then celebrate together. At the finish, the best for us would have been for Gaia to win the stage and me to take the jersey. At the finish, me and Gaia wanted her to win so that she takes the stage and I take the jersey, but then we did some calculations and the Team Director decided to do it this way. She is an incredible bike rider so I am looking forward to give this victory back to her.

Today I have to say a big thank you to Gaia and everyone in the team because they were so strong and riding in the wind for me. We knew that Cavalli was dropped so we took the opportunity in our own hands. Thank you to Ilaria, Elynor, Gaia and Lauretta. We were five heroes in my opinion, I have four champions next to me.”

Photos of the day

Squad goals. Photo Luca Bettini/SprintCyclingAgency©2023

Elisa Longo Borghini's game face. Photo Luca Bettini/SprintCyclingAgency©2023

"Follow our wheels and you'll win." Yaya, probably. Photo Luca Bettini/SprintCyclingAgency©2023

The Gaia Express. Photo Luca Bettini/SprintCyclingAgency©2023

Powered by Pirelli. Photo Luca Bettini/SprintCyclingAgency©2023

Photo Luca Bettini/SprintCyclingAgency©2023

Elisa's MVP, Gaia. Photo Luca Bettini/SprintCyclingAgency©2023

Photo Luca Bettini/SprintCyclingAgency©2023