Lizzie Deignan leads a gutsy team for Opening Weekend

The Brit will make her season debut and, together with Longo Borghini and Balsamo, will lead Lidl-Trek into the first test on the cobbles

Only a few days remain until the first challenge on the unforgiving northern cobbles. On the schedule of the Women’s Team there is Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Saturday) and Omloop van het Hageland (Sunday), two events that Lidl-Trek approach with high motivation and strong determination.

Lidl-Trek head to the two events with the plan to take the race into their own hands, and for this reason the Team has chosen to line up three captains that, in terms of standing and attitude on those roads, can play a leading role: Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini and Elisa Balsamo.

For Saturday’s OHN, all the three stars will be at the start, along with Lauretta Hanson, Brodie Chapman and Ilaria Sanguineti. For Hageland, Deignan and Longo Borghini will make way for Elynor Bäckstedt and Clara Copponi.

As the two Elisas arrive at the Opening Weekend having already broken the ice at UAE Tour and Setmana Valenciana (in which came two victories for Balsamo), the great expectation now is to see Queen Lizzie in action. Let’s turn to Lizzie to hear her thoughts on the upcoming test, as well as those of the Italians, to get in the right mood for the weekend!

Lizzie already won both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (2016) both Omloop van het Hageland (2012 and 2014) (©RossBell)

Lizzie: “I’ve put the work in and I am pretty optimistic we can perform strong”

It’s been two years now since I’ve raced Opening Weekend and I’m really happy to finally be back here and to be lining up as part of this team for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a race I won in 2016. It’s the type of race that I like. It’s never easy, it produces tough and gritty racing and I doubt that will change this year.

Since Omloop adopted the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg finish, the old Tour of Flanders finish, bunch sprints have become rarer here but we are heading to the start with a line-up of really strong women, a group more than capable of winning in different scenarios and we will all work hard for that outcome.

It was really motivating to watch Elisa Balsamo get our first two wins of the season in the bunch sprints at Valenciana and I think she should come to Belgium with a lot of confidence in her form ahead of Saturday, and also for Hageland on Sunday. Likewise, Elisa Longo Borghini is a rider that you never want to discount. She likes this type of racing too, likes an aggressive race and isn’t shy about attacking off the front and making things difficult herself if she needs to. We definitely have different cards to play and strong support to back us up in Lauretta, Yaya, and Brodie.

2023 was my first season without a victory and I haven’t been shy about stating that this year, I want to reverse that trend. I know I can and I said in December that all I needed would be a strong winter behind me. I think I now have that, I’ve put the work in and I am pretty optimistic about being able to win again. I am not going to say that it will definitely happen this weekend, it can take time to find your race rhythm after the off-season but I am certainly ready to try & excited to get back to really racing to win in 2024.

Longo Borghini action during stage one of UAE Tour, her first race in 2024 (©GettyImages)

Longo Borghini: “I feel motivated to race with such a strong team”

The opening weekend brings with it a load of excitement that motivates me a lot and mentally prepares me for what will come in spring. Performance at Opening Weekend is an important benchmark, although tough, it is the right one to get a clear idea on your condition. Personally, I was happy with my UAE debut, it gave me the step up in condition I expected, but I feel I can still grow a lot. In races like OHN the condition counts, of course, but the approach and the conviction you put in is what can make the difference. It’s a race where everything can change quickly, from a moment in which all seems lost, you can get back into the game. You can be dropped on one muur and find yourself in front of the next one. You need to put the hammer down, have a good team tactics, exploit your abilities and, why not, pray for some good luck in the key moments. I will be at the start with one of the strongest teams in the peloton for the cobbles, and this makes me proud and motivated. I really want to prove myself.

Four racing days in 2024 for Elisa Balsamo and already two wins (©GettyImages)

Balsamo: “It’s a like a second debut”

The victories I achieved in Spain were a nice confidence boost, but the Opening Weekend will be a different story. Not to say that at Setmana Valenciana there was no competition, on the contrary, but OHN and OVH are very different races, they need a totally different approach. Cobbles, short and sharp muur, and more often than not an unwelcoming weather. I face the weekend as a new debut, the beginning of a long sprint towards spring. I have the knowledge that I am doing well, but woe betide me if I err on the side of presumption! Northern races must be approached with humility, this is what I have learnt over the years. I hope and want to start my 2024 on the cobbles well, whether it is for my own personal achievement or to help the team. Let’s go!