Desert, wind and echelons: Longo Borghini and Realini debut at UAE Tour

In 2023 the Italian duo scored an amazing one-two in the Queen Stage and the general classification. Now they return with the desire to lead Lidl-Trek to another great performance

After the debut in Australia, the Women’s World Tour shifts to the Middle East for the second edition of the UAE Tour, starting tomorrow. A year ago, in Abu Dhabi, Elisa Longo Borghini and Gaia Realini stood on the final podium, first and second respectively. The same result was achieved the previous day on the summit finish in Jebel Hafeet. For Elisa, it was the great start to a season that, unfortunately, turned out to be very unlucky; Gaia, on the other hand, showed everyone her enormous talent as a climber, then replicated it throughout the season.

One of the best image from 2023 season: Elisa and Gaia together on Jabel Hafeet (©SprintCycling)

UAE Tour will be not just be the season debut for the two Italians, but also for Lisa Klein and two of the Lidl-Trek new arrivals, sprinter Clara Copponi and 18-year-old Izzy Sharp, making her professional debut. The lineup is completed by Elynor Bäckstedt, the only team member to have tasted competition this year. At the helm will be DS Jeroen Blijlevens, behind the wheel in the Lidl-Trek team car for the first time.

To know more about the coming UAE Tour, we asked to Elisa and Gaia to tell about their memories and to introduce what we can expect from the new edition.

Elisa through the lens of Sean Hardy

Elisa Longo Borghini:

My performance at UAE Tour 2023 was one of the strongest of the whole season. I have a beautiful memory of me and Gaia crossing the finish line in Jebel Hafeet, hand in hand. I won and secured the final classification, but it was all in all a team victory. A year later, I am happy to be back and, most of all, to start the season. This is not just a debut for me, but a return to racing after a very difficult time. I feel competitive again after seven months, practically since the 2023 Tour de France Femmes – that was the last race where I was feeling good and strong.

Compared to 2023, the condition I arrive in UAE is really different condition. Last year I tackled the race after an altitude camp on Teide and an important block of work based on quality and quantity. This year, the goal of the last weeks was to rebuild the form, to lay new foundations. As last year, I feel motivated to perform, but the physical condition is definitely different.

Teamwork was the key of the success in 2023 and it can be the same also this year, but looking forward to all the stages and not only the queen one. We have a sprinter like Copponi who can play her cards with the best, with the support of two strong lead out riders like Bäckstedt and Klein, as well as myself. For Jebel Hafeet, Realini can repeat the great performance of a year ago.

I want play my part in this teamwork. I feel good, recovered, but I don't really know what to expect. I just really want to get back to battle in a race. UAE Tour is the first step in a season that I want to live as a protagonist, starting from spring classics.

Gaia Realini is going to start her second season with the Team (©SteelCity)

Gaia Realini:

This race has a special significance which, I believe, will remain in my heart forever. It was my debut with the Team, my first race as a World Tour rider. I broke the ice in the most beautiful and unexpected way. I found myself at the top of Jebel Hafeet together with my idol Elisa, with the opponents dropped one after each other under the pressure of our acceleration. From that day on, it was like showing myself to the world, everything changed. I was no longer the little girl who always wore a cycling cap in the race, but I had become Gaia Realini ‘the one who goes strong uphill’. The cycling world discovered me and for me it was the way to show what I was capable. From that day on, I looked to my career with a new perspective.

I face the new edition feeling more calm and with much more confidence. This is the first step in a season full of important events. I’m here with the aim of reigniting the engine, starting to push on the accelerator and getting the first feedback on my condition.

UAE Tour is a race in the desert, with lots of flat roads, wind and echelons. It's not a race suited to my characteristics, but Jebel Hafeet is a real climb and I’m ready to play my cards. With Elisa there is always great understanding and harmony... so, why not try to repeat last year's script?