Trek-Segafredo opts for a sprint and Elisa Balsamo delivers a perfect finish
If there was any question of the Trek-Segafredo team plan coming into Trofeo Alfredo Binda, by the final kilometers, the strategy was clear.
The entire Team, including last year’s champion Elisa Longo Borghini, committed to bringing Elisa Balsamo to the finish to launch her world champion sprint.
However, coming into the final meters, Balsamo appeared too far behind. And still, when the sprint had started, she waited. Right until it seemed impossible. Would all that teamwork be for naught?
After an aggressive and hilly race and a committed Trek-Segafredo team working for a sprint ending, the World Champion only had to deliver the final punch.
“I was a bit far back in the final turn, but it was a decision to start so far back,” Balsamo explained. “I think I did a great sprint tactically. The finish was fast, but the road rises at the end, so as much as you can wait to start the sprint the more power you can put to the road. I think it was the right choice.”
She had us sweating in our armchairs, but Balsamo pulled off the perfect sprint.
“I am feeling good, and my morale is high. I knew that if I could pass the last climb that I had a good chance in the sprint. This race is one of the most important races of our calendar, and it is like a home race, so I am very happy.”
Trek-Segafredo came into the WorldTour race with two plans. Plan A was all about defending Longo Borghini’s 2021 win, and when she put herself into a strong four-rider move with less than 20 kilometers remaining, it seemed this could be it. Not many would bet against the Italian champion from repeating what happened in 2021.
“We spoke about this situation the night before with our director Paolo Slongo,” explained Longo Borghini. “If we would find ourselves in a break, we had to communicate to see how we felt and who we were with. So when I saw that the three riders with me were faster than me, we decided it was not the best situation and not to work with them. Then we decided to go full with Elisa, to not go with any attacks and help her get over the climb and bring her in the best position possible for the sprint.”
With Plan A out the window, the contingency plan was set into action.
Balsamo said: “The pre-race plan was not set – we have Elisa (Longo Borghini) who had the freedom to attack and make a selection like last year. And our second option was a sprint finish if Elisa’s attempt did not work. I really have to thank my teammates because at one point in the race we all decided to go for the sprint. Elisa, Ellen and Shirin were perfect – more than perfect – to support me. It was a great boost of confidence for me in this moment to have such great riders at my disposal.”
So the team switched gears. They went from offensive mode to defensive. But they still had to get over the biggest obstacle before the finish: the Orino climb for a final time.
“Compared to last year, I feel my climbing has improved. My teammates kept a regular pace on the climb and then chased, which was perfect,” said Balsamo.
With teammates Ellen van Dijk, Shirin van Anrooij and Longo Borghini in the reduced bunch coming into the final ascent of Orino, the expected attack – six riders quickly etched out a significant gap of 12 seconds – was quickly neutralized on the descent.
Then it was all about keeping the pace high to negate any more moves and young Shirin did a great job, pulling like there was no Monday.
In the final kilometer, the Trek-Segafredo gas tank was on E. There was little left for a lead out, but none needed for a savvy Balsamo. The world champion played off Team SD Worx, letting the powerful Marlen Reusser lead the way in the final 800 meters.
And then, when it seemed over – only 100 meters remained – Balsamo fired. “I like this sprint and I knew that I had to make it short, and so I did.”
The rainbow jersey overtook the riders in front like they were standing still and won by a few bike lengths. It almost seemed too easy. But those who witnessed the race knew better. When a strong and committed team executes, just like her teammates did, Balsamo only had to concentrate on one big moment.
“Of course, I have to mention the great but unseen work by Audrey (Cordon Ragot) and Leah Thomas in the first part of the race. When you are able to get to the final sprint with full energy it’s not only because I have good condition, but because I have teammates who saved me [expending] energy during the race and in a finish like this it’s essential,” said Elisa.
“I am in a team that has the strength to lead the race and manage it. For a rider like me, this is amazing. We create our chances and not just waiting for what the others will do,” she continued. “Winning my first WorldTour race in Italy is a special emotion. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the Northern races and I can do so with top confidence.”