Italian champion caps off a stellar classics season with an impressive sprint to the podium in Liège
With defending champion Lizzie Deignan unable to defend her crown, it was down to her Trek-Segafredo teammates to fight for the victory in Liège. The action for Trek-Segafredo started when Tayler Wiles climbed into a breakaway on the Col du Rosier, but it was short-lived as the peloton refused to give the seven riders much freedom. Heading over the infamous La Redoute (8.9%) Lucinda Brand bridged across with an accomplice to Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx) who had launched an attack on the earlier slopes. The three riders lead the race for around 15 kilometers before being reeled after cresting the Côte des Forges. The trio were deemed too dangerous by the unrepresented teams to allow them the freedom to stay ahead.
It all looked like the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons would be the decisive climb. Elisa Longo Borghini had been able to save energy all day thanks to the support of her teammates in the action and thus was amongst the first riders on the 10.9% climb. Perennial threat Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) managed to hold onto the leaders until the final accelerations over the summit, which snapped the elastic, but a lack of cohesion allowed the UCI WWT leader to rejoin the leaders. The eventual selection was made on an unclassified climb in Boncelles, which normally wouldn’t pose such a difficulty, but with a full headwind and 130 kilometers already in the legs it managed to split the group. Five riders emerged in the leading group, with Longo Borghini amongst them.
The script was set for a final showdown in Liège – a cross-headwind sprint between the five leaders – and only a chasing Marianne Vos could re-write that. Knowing that her sprint isn’t her strongest asset, Longo Borghini normally would have liked to go on the attack, however the strong headwind took that option of the table. “We were in a very strong group, I wanted to go for the sprint because it was my only option. So many times in the past I tried to attack and it didn’t work out so Ina [Teutenberg, DS) told me to wait for the sprint.”
Instead she kept her cool, initially contributing to establish the gap but then taking a back seat when it was looking secure. Our Italian champion rolled under the flame rouge on the coattails of Demi Vollering, who was expected to be the fastest finisher from the quintet. Van der Breggen lead out the sprint and Longo Borghini followed the impulse of Vollering as they moved up the group. Longo Borghini crossed the line in third place, a satisfying result for Trek-Segafredo. Lucinda Brand added to our points tally with a sprint to 9th from the second chasing group.
“I did believe I could go on the podium. Ina told me to go at the very last moment. I took Vollering’s wheel but I couldn’t pass her. I’m pretty satisfied about my third place and I couldn’t ask for more. Hopefully Audrey [Cordon-Ragot] is proud of me and my sprint!
“I couldn’t expect more and chapeau to the winner because she was really strong today, and the World Champion put her in the best position to win this race. Congratulations to the two riders ahead of me. I have no regrets, this morning I said I would have been happy if I came to the finish line having given my 100%, and I did, so I can’t complain. The team rode really well, so I need to thank Trek-Segafredo, they were riding really good for me.”
Longo Borghini could rely on the expertise of DS Ina Teutenberg, winner of 148 races during her career as a rider, following the race in our Toyota team car. Although the favorite from the group won, Elisa could use Teutenberg’s advice to sprint onto the podium. “They put us on the right side because the wind was coming from the front and left side. Ina told me to go very late because it was a long sprint and headwind so I had to come late. Starting from the very last position was probably good for me because Kasia was second and started the sprint as first. I could overtake Kasia using Vollering’s wheel but she was faster and so was Annemiek. It was really good to have Ina talking me through these things because I’m not normally very good in a sprint. I really need to learn and believe a little bit more in myself and believe that I can also play the game in a sprint.”
And something all of us amateurs can relate to: “Sprinting for the town signs in training is helping!”
Longo Borghini leaves the classics with the coveted UCI WWT leader’s jersey on her shoulders, having wrestled it from Vos. It will replace her beautiful tricolore for the next race. “It’s always an honor to wear it, it shows that you’re always there and consistent in your results. I will surely try to defend it, but there are many races and the season will speak for itself.”