A deep, personal conversation between Elisa and herself as she takes a moment of self-reflection to close the door on 2021 and focus on 2022
In the last few years, I have had solid growth and I feel that the goal of full maturity is near. There is still room for one more step to get to my personal top, then it will be only a matter of staying there.
- Elisa Longo Borghini
When she speaks, Elisa Longo Borghini is always open and shows us her true character. A muse of pragmatism, conviction, and dedication. And, as those who know her well can confirm, honesty. Elisa feels she has reached an important point in her career. She is 30 years old and starting her 12th season after finishing her most consistent and best yet.
To reach the top of women’s cycling, she has questioned herself – a lot – and always gave honest answers. It’s an ongoing and interesting process, and to introduce her 2022 season, we asked Elisa to give us a glimpse of this form of self-reflection.
What you will read below is an unconventional interview in which Elisa is asking herself the questions, taking one final look back at 2021, describing what she wants to achieve, and what she needs to do to get there this year. In short: Elisa interviews Elisa.
I’ve talked about 2021 a lot, and now I’m really focusing on the new season, but I think putting the final point on last year will be useful to me.
Everyone saw the numbers: important victories, equally prestigious podiums, the double win at the Italian championship and the Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo. But on a personal and intimate level, how did I feel?
It was definitely a demanding year: a busy calendar, with many race days and many objectives to aim for. There was little time to breathe and, although I’m satisfied with what I’ve achieved, my mood didn’t always reflect my sporting joys. I am thinking specifically about the Italian road race championships. An important moment of my season, a beautiful victory, but it coincided with a very difficult moment of my life.
What do I mean?
Two days before the race my boyfriend Jacopo [Mosca] suffered a very bad crash during the Italian time trial championship. Instinctively I didn’t want to race anymore, I wanted to go to the hospital and stay close to him. Then, my mom literally put me on the plane to Bari, where we were going to race, making me understand that I couldn’t have done anything at the hospital. Rather racing and winning would have been the best way to give morale to Jacopo. He also pushed me to go.
It was the demonstration of something I believe in so much: the head, in many cases, can make the difference more than the legs.
The night before the race was really difficult. How did I get through it?
In my head, I had thoughts of what it will be like to race a bike after the person you care about the most has just crashed. I woke up feeling strange; not good. I felt like I had no legs to win, but so much determination to make it happen. I raced the entire event with the idea that no one would take the tricolore jersey off my shoulders because I must dedicate it to someone special. Crossing the finish line, I had an incredible feeling, different from usual, but just as beautiful. It was the demonstration of something I believe in so much: the head, in many cases, can make the difference more than the legs.
That victory was the highlight of my season, no doubt. However, in 2021, did I have any regrets?
Yes. Two, in particular. The biggest one was Amstel Gold Race, where I made a mistake in managing the finale. We were two alone in the front – me and Niewiadoma – with the peloton chasing hard. It was a very hectic moment; the situation was evolving quickly and there was some confusion with the team car.
Ina was watching the race on TV with a slight delay, and I interpreted her instructions in my own way. I was wrong, because in those moments the only thing to do is taking a personal decision at the cost of making a mistake. When the peloton caught us, the regret was massive because that day I was feeling really good and I was sure I could win the sprint with Kasia.
The second one was more annoying, like a pebble in the shoe, and refers to the last stage of the Challenge La Vuelta. I attacked in the finale, hoping to go alone to the finish line, but Kopecky followed. The moment I turned my head to look at her face, I slowed down a pinch, and she caught me off guard. It still hurts me to have lost like that.
Some people might ask me “what about Strade Bianche?” after I finished second and having worked so hard…
I feel that one differently because even though I am convinced that a race like that, out of 100 attempts, 99 times I would win. But that day Chantal van den Broek-Blaak hit that one 1%. She didn’t give me a chance in the finale, but I am okay with it, it was the game of the strongest wins. I don’t say I was happy, but I accepted it, without too many regrets.
That’s enough about the past, let’s look what’s next for me and I want to describe my schedule and goals using colors.
First of all, I will choose red and match it with the Ardennes Classics, the first big goal of my season. Red because these are places where there is a very strong passion for cycling and where, many years ago, people battled for freedom. Red because to win you need a lot of heart because these are races that exhaust you. Also, for this reason, I like them a lot.
Then I chose blue and pair it with the Tour de France. An electric, sparkly blue because it’s something new and super cool to attend.
The last choice is a palette of rainbow colors, the ones of the World Championships. Now it’s too early to say what might be for me on a route that, on paper, is not suited to my characteristics, but I do know that I’d like to be there, in Australia, as a protagonist. That doesn’t mean being the leader but, as experienced in 2021 with Elisa Balsamo, might mean being at the service of someone who takes the win.
What Elisa do I see in 2022?
Over the past couple of years, there has been a change in my style of racing, that’s true. And when people tell me I race “aggressively”, I like it. I’ve gained a lot more confidence in myself, in my potential. I’ve realized what I can really do. I owe this to the people who have been close to me, Jacopo first of all. They have given me an awareness that it’s better to attack to try and win, rather than stay on the wheel and fight for a podium. In 2022, I want to finish the races I target with the feeling I’ve given everything to try for the victory.
Would I change a series of prestigious podiums in all the Classics to win just one?
Definitely, yes! I would make this choice for La Flèche Wallonne. I have a love/hate relationship with this race. There have been times that I felt great and came close to success, and others that this race brutally rejected me and made me feel very bad.
What do I need to do to take another leap forward?
To get to where I am, I’ve worked hard and with a lot of determination. I don’t think I need to do anything special to improve more, just persevere. In December, we had a team meeting with Luca [Guercilena, Trek-Segafredo General Manager], and he said a sacrosanct thing: the key to getting far is discipline. It’s a different concept than motivation, which gives you momentum, but then you need consistency. To succeed in your goals, you have to do it methodically: follow a heathy life, train hard, rest as much as you need. Hard work, in the end, in one way or another, always pays off.
Is there something I can do to improve further in races?
Yes…be a little smarter. More rational. Use the head a little more than the instincts. You know how thoughtful I am, but there are cases where you must be able to read race situations differently. Maybe, taking a thoughtful glance to manage my attacks in a better way. At the end, there are always a few riders in the game to win, mainly the same. It doesn’t take so much to turn a podium into a victory.
The last question I want to ask myself is about the Team. I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m very happy with how much I have received from them. But what can I give to the Team and how do you I see myself in that context?
First and foremost, I think I’m a good leader to work for, but I also think I’m an interchangeable rider, like few I see in the peloton. I have never had a problem working for a teammate – I always feel extremely happy seeing my teammates win. Versatility is a strength of mine. In some cases, it means being a reference point for my teammates, someone they can count on. In addition, I’m a good listener. I am there for my teammates or friends when they need to vent. It’s a good quality, I think.
Next stop races!
Bring it on.