Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling’s Elisa Longo Borghini makes a change to her race schedule this weekend, to take the start of the Ronde van Drenthe, in Hoogeveen, Netherlands, to honour the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey that she took after her victory in the Strade Bianche last week. The 26-year-old Italian will not be racing for herself, however, on a course that favours a sprint finish, but will be riding in support of 2015 winner Jolien D’hoore.
Both D’hoore and Longo Borghini have reached the top step of the podium this season, with the Belgian winning February’s Omloop van het Hageland. Longo Borghini was instrumental in that result, with a late attack allowing D’hoore to save herself in the peloton, and it was that attacking form that saw the Italian Time Trial Champion win the biggest race of the spring so far.
“I realised what I had done already, I realised in the evening!” she laughed. “I’m pretty happy how the team raced, and how we faced all the troubles that the race gave us. I think we were pretty strong, and we were cool in our decisions, so it was a very good day.”
Longo Borghini’s race might have finished at around halfway, however, as a crash on the longest section of Strade Bianche broke her bike. Thankfully, with teammates in support, the Italian was able to continue the race, which she was to go on to win.
“Luckily Audrey [Cordon-Ragot] was there,” Longo Borghini said. “But there was Gio [Bronzini] all ready to give me her bike - even though it would have been like going on a tricycle! But at least I would have managed to finish that gravel section.
“But luckily I had Audrey there, and I’m really, really thankful to her.”
The five riders in the group that had formed late in the race, thanks to the acceleration of Longo Borghini on one of the toughest gravel sections, looked like they was to contest the finish between themselves until a late counterattack from Lucinda Brand (Sunweb) and Shara Gillow (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine) took the lead before the final climb into Siena.
Thanks to her confidence in her own form, however, Longo Borghini was able to calmly reel them back in, before making her own move on the steep, flagstoned streets.
“I was cool about those moves because it’s exactly what I would have done if I was coming back on the breakaway from the peloton behind,” she explained. “It’s a move you make when you risk everything, because you don’t have the legs to face your opponents. You just pass them, and you go full gas, and yo just try everything to try to win the race.
“But I knew the final didn’t suit them, and I know I could bridge across.”
Longo Borghini’s current form has come as a surprise to the Italian, since her main targets come later in the spring. As arguably the strongest rider in all three races she has started, however, she is enjoying being able to race as she really wants to.
“I’m still not 100% because I didn’t really plan to be in good form for this part of the season,” she explained. “Because I want to start a bit cooler and try to peak for the Ardennes. But I found myself in such a form… I’m not winning so often, so every time I have the opportunity to do this, I just do it. I think it’s normal.
“I’m having such fun in the races,” the Italian smiled. “I’m just happy to be at the races, to enjoy the atmosphere there. Also because in our squad there is a very good atmosphere. We love to race together, and to stay together. It’s just very nice. It’s like having the 2015 atmosphere back; when we won Drenthe.”
Longo Borghini was originally set to race at the Semana Valenciana this week. Having taken the lead in the Women’s WorldTour though, she will be honouring the competition by lining up in Drenthe instead.
“I will be there because it’s a very well organised race and I can be useful for Jolien,” she said. “I will try to honour my jersey because I think the leader of the WorldTour needs to be at the WorldTour races, even if the race is not suited for her. It’s a way of honouring the calendar, and honouring the challenge. I think it’s a kind of duty that you have if you are the leader.”
D’hoore’s 2015 victory in Drenthe came after the Belgian sprinter was able to shelter in the peloton while Longo Borghini was in a break up ahead; much as happened in last month’s Omloop van het Hageland. This role, she believes, could play a role in forging another result in the race for her teammate.
“I think I can be part of a good team that can go for the victory,” she said. “Not for myself, but Jolien has so many chances and I’m looking forward to work for her.”
Although she has taken the lead in the Women’s WorldTour for the first time, Longo Borghini is not yet looking at the series classification as a season goal. Targets later in the spring are in her focus beforehand, and some of the new events in particular.
The new Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, along with the well-established Flèche Wallonne, will be her main focus for rest of this phase of the season.
“I’m not looking at the GC to be honest,” Longo Borghini confirmed. “I don’t think that I would be able to keep the leader’s jersey until the end because there are many races coming up, and a lot of races are not for me. I’m just taking it race by race, and I will try to be as good as I can for the periods that I marked.
“I’m just looking for the Ardennes. Flanders this year will be for Jolien, and I’m pretty happy to be there supporting her.”
Alongside Longo Borghini and D’hoore in Saturday’s race will be former double Track World Champion Nettie Edmondson, former Danish Champion Julie Leth, with sisters Grace and Lucy Garner racing together for the second time this season.
Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling team for the Ronde van Drenthe
Jolien D’hoore (Belgium), Annette Edmondson (Australia), Grace Garner (Great Britain), Lucy Garner (Great Britain), Julie Leth (Denmark), Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy)
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS