Wiggle-Honda have been the dominant force in world cycling in 2015, winning more races than any other team in the peloton and doing it with an enviable number of riders. One of the riders that has been heavily responsible for their many successes this season is Elisa Longo Borghini. The Italian claimed five victories this year, including dominating performances at the Tour of Flanders and, more recently, the Giro dell’Emilia.
“This year has been the best year so far because I won a stage race, I won a World Cup, and I was always there in the in the important races, except for in Fleche Wallonne and the Giro but I’m really happy with my 2015 and hopefully my 2016 will be better,” Longo Borghini told Cyclingnews with a laugh, and it’s hard imagine that it won’t be.
Two years ago, Longo Borghini’s rise to the upper echelons of cycling seemed almost inevitable until she was set back by a horrible accident during the Italian national championships in 2013. It took her some time to find her feet once again and get the ball rolling. In 2014, there were signs of the promise that she’d shown before but it wasn’t until this season that she’s been able to find that consistency.
Unfortunately for the 23-year-old, there are still some lingering issues from that crash. Problems with her back meant that she was not in top shape for her home race the Giro Rosa – the only Grand Tour on the women’s calendar at present. A disappointing performance led to some criticism from some quarters afterwards.
“Not being able to ride the Giro at my level was a disappointment. It’s an Italian race and everyone has expectations and I felt really bad,” she explained. “I also felt sad after the Giro because I received a lot of criticism, saying ‘Longo Borghini’ she is someone who isn’t able to ride a stage race, she’s not good enough, she’s heavy, but then I won the Route de France and I showed that I can win if I’m healthy.
“I just try not to care because you can’t please everybody. There will always be somebody that will make comments about you.”
Longo Borghini is one of several Wiggle-Honda riders that have been on winning form in 2015. The team, which is run by Rochelle Gilmore, claimed 35 wins throughout the season, including … in the World Cup. Only three years since their inception, the team have become one of the places to be, along with Boels Dolmans and Rabo Liv. Longo Borghini told Cyclingnews that she gains as much from helping one of her teammates to glory as she gets from winning herself.
“It’s a special energy that it gives you,” she said. “For me, some of the victories that we achieved I feel like they are also mine. Like Drenthe, for me, it was one of the best races of the season because we worked so well as a team and we performed really well and in the end we won the race. When I crossed the line that day, it felt like I won. It’s really nice. It’s a feeling that I wish every rider could have because it’s such a satisfaction.”
Rio and the Women's WorldTour
Confidence can be gained in the strangest of places and for Longo Borghini, her fourth place at the World Championships showed her that she was capable of more than she originally thought. This season has been hugely successful for Longo Borghini and she is hoping that it is a stepping stone to something even bigger in her eyes, the Olympic Games. The hilly course in Rio should be well suited to her capabilities and, if she can perform as she has done this season, then she’ll be one of the favourites for a medal.
“Normally in a sprint between those riders I would have been seventh or eighth,” explained Longo Borghini. “After the Worlds, I realised that sometimes I can sprint better than I think and this, together with the victories that I achieved, gave me a boost of motivation to be even better next year. It will be a really tough and important year for me, so I would really like to be good.
“I would like to do really well in Rio because it’s the Olympic Games and it’s only every four years and it’s a chance you don’t always have in your career. It will put my energy into that goal.”
The spring classics and the Giro Rosa will also be top on her list of priorities.
Things will be a little different for the women’s peloton in 2016, however, with the introduction of the women’s WorldTour. Unlike the World Cup, it will be made up of one-day and stage races and will see more security and better television coverage for the teams and races.
“I think that it can bring good to our sport and I’m looking forward to being a part of the WorldTour and seeing how the races will be managed and shown. I’m curious,” Longo Borghini told Cyclingnews. “It’s really important in my opinion because this is the only way to get more sponsors involved and to stimulate the people to watch us.”
“Women’s cycling can be really interesting and really nice to watch but for most races there is no broadcast so from next year the sponsors can see their brands shown and potential sponsors can be interested in sponsoring a team.”