What rainbow curse? Elisa Balsamo wins her first race of the season

A team effort delivers Trek-Segafredo victory in their first race of 2022

There is a myth in pro cycling that world champions often struggle after winning the rainbow jersey. But Trek-Segafredo showed teamwork is the best remedy to put such a spell – real or not – to rest.

In what looked like a repeat of the 2021 World Championships in Leuven, except this time it was the Trek-Segafredo colors leading the race, Elisa Longo-Borghini delivered a perfect lead-out as Elisa Balsamo sprinted to victory in Stage 1 at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana.

While Balsamo made good delivering the win in the Team’s first race of the season, it was a cohesive, selfless effort that made it possible.

The Italian Champion in a brilliant repeat performance of the World Championship road race.

Ellen and Elisa were nothing short of perfect.

When you have World Time Trial champion Ellen van Dijk and Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini working together to pull back a late dangerous move, even with the always-threatening Annemiek van Vleuten up the road, you can afford to sit back a relax.

In fact, Balsamo only had to hit the accelerator in the final few hundred meters.  When she did, she easily pulled away to take the win by a few bike lengths.

“A debut like that was in my dreams, but not really in the day’s expectations,” gushed Elisa. “Last night, in the pre-race meeting, Ina (Teutenberg, director) raised the possibility of such a finish. A lot would depend on my ability to hold out on the last climb. And then the team would do the rest to allow me to sprint. Ina’s prophecy came true, and my teammates did an impressive job. It was a perfect day!”

No chance for the late break with Ellen pulling.

How it unfolded

All the action of the 114-kilometer race came on the final climb when solo breakaway rider Erica Magnaldi (UAE Team ADQ) was finally caught and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) pulled away with Marta Cavalli (FDJ) and Mavi Garcia (UAE Team ADQ) for company.

But Trek-Segafredo did not panic.  Instead, Van Dijk and Longo Borghini calmly went to work. Under their power, they kept their teammate safe and then on the descent slowly dissolved the gap to the leading six.

“Ellen and Elisa were nothing short of perfect,” praised Balsamo. “Just before the top of the last KOM, they brought me back to the first chase group. Then, in about 6-7 kilometers, they closed the gap with the escapees.”

When we caught the escapees, that's when I realized it. I said to myself: ‘Well, now it's my turn.’

Two kilometers from the line, the six leaders were caught. It was now time to launch the rainbows.

Balsamo continued: “Then [Ellen and Elisa] pulled straight and put me in the best condition for the sprint. The last 2-3 kilometers for a sprinter is like a bull seeing the red flag. A lot, or maybe everything, is played on instinct.

“I felt I was in the best condition to win, I couldn’t ask for more, even though I felt the responsibility to repay the work of my teammates. When we caught the escapees, that’s when I realized it. I said to myself: ‘Well, now it’s my turn.’

Nothing tastier than rainbow punch

In an uncanny replay of the World Championships, Longo Borghini gave a perfect lead-out to her Italian teammate.  Balsamo crossed the line ahead of Ruby Roseman-Gannon (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Anouska Koster (Jumbo-Visma) and punched the air.

“From the point of view of expectations, even my performance went beyond what I thought – I didn’t think I had such good feelings. It’s the first race of the year, after an intense period. It’s normal to carry around a few question marks. Being able to perform at such a good level already makes me super happy,” added Elisa.

“Getting off to such a good start is a boost of confidence, the best way to make my debut with Trek-Segafredo, but my outlook is still unchanged. I have to keep my feet firmly on the ground, we’re just at the beginning and I just have to look forward. What needs to be emphasized, and perhaps the most important thing, is the feeling that I already have with the team. The immediacy with which certain mechanisms and chemistry have been created is more than positive,” she ended.

Is the rainbow jersey cursed?  Not in this team!

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