Elisa Balsamo blog: Mission accomplished as Classics hunter

CITTIGLIO ITALY MARCH 20 Elisa Balsamo of Italy and Team Trek Segafredo celduring the 46th Trofeo Alfredo BindaComune di Cittiglio 2021 Womens Elite a 1418km one day race from Cocquio Trevisago to Cittiglio TrBinda UCIWWT on March 20 2022 in Cittiglio Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
World Champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) began Classics winning streak at Trofeo Alfredo Binda in her home country of Italy (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Elisa Balsamo is the reigning women's road world champion and wears the rainbow jersey to begin her inaugural season with Trek-Segafredo. She completed an impressive hat-trick this spring by sprinting to victory at three one-day races - Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Classic Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem - and was ranked at the top of the Women's WorldTour rankings. The Italian rider shares her emotions about a dominant start, riding with a new team and insights from the peloton in a blog series for Cyclingnews.

Back in January, if I had been asked to put down on paper my dream debut with Trek-Segafredo, I think the narrative wouldn't have been much different than what was the reality of the past few weeks. Maybe, in some way, the reality has been almost better.

First, the win at the first-ever race with the team, at the Setmana Valenciana. Then the fourth place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, second place at Ronde Van Drenthe and the series of three successes in eight days at Trofeo Binda, Brugge-De Panne and the Gent-Wevelgem. Well… not bad, right? 

If I say that these were my expectations, it would perhaps sound arrogant. But anyway these results are not the result of a lucky astral coincidence. My winter training was planned to start strong and get to the Classics, my big goal for the first part of the season, with the best condition. Mission accomplished.

In this dream setting, there's a moment that stands out for me: the Trofeo Binda - Brugge-De Panne - Gent-Wevelgem triple wins. Three of the most important races on the calendar and three very different races, compared to another. But let me explain in order.

I felt a strong emotion when I won in Italy while wearing the rainbow jersey. The warmth of the crowd at the Trofeo Binda and the presence of my family were a determining factor in motivating me. It was a tough race, with a challenging final circuit with two climbs that could have cost me dearly. However, I knew I could have my chance, but only if the right conditions were created.

At the key moment of the race, my Trek-Segafredo teammates took the lead. They were flawless, so strong and I will never stop thanking them for that. They controlled the race and set the final for a small group sprint finish. I started the sprint with 100 metres to go, pulling straight ahead with all my strength. No one could catch me, and so it was, taking the win and the joy of crossing the finish line with raised arms.

From Italy to Belgium, the Brugge-De Panne was the most unexpected victory. On paper, it is a flat race that is normally made harder by the strong winds. This year, however, we had ideal spring weather with beautiful sunshine and ... no wind. The result was a fast race, with several crashes in the last kilometers. The team's plan for me was being the lead-out rider for Chloe Hosking to launch her sprint. With less than 2km to go, she unfortunately got caught in a crash and so, without thinking too much, I had to throw myself into the sprint. When I won, I instinctively laughed out of joy and surprise.

A few days later it was Gent-Wevelgem - my favourite race. The race menu is typically Belgian: walls and cobblestones. My love for this race (and Belgian Classics in general) stems from that. To put it bluntly, it's a little bit of love and hate, because Belgium is a demanding test benchmark for a rider. If you come in with the right form, you face the challenge, as charged as a spring. But if something goes wrong, every kilometre is pure agony. Last year, was a sort of springboard for me with Valcar. At Gent-Wevelgem, in 2021, I finished fourth and, from there, the phone started ringing with insistence …

This year, I started from Gent with the goal of improving on that result and getting on the podium. I was super determined and, like at Binda, my teammates were, too. Thanks to them I fulfilled a dream. They helped me from the first to the last kilometre. Ours was a perfect mechanism, like that of Swiss watches. I finalized it all with the best sprint I could do and, although it wasn't really needed, I had the proof that cycling is a team sport. Without my teammates, these victories would not have happened.

It was a golden week that will remain in my memory forever. I am very satisfied with the start of the season, but far be it from me to spend too much time wallowing in these thoughts! 

The Ronde van Vlaanderen, a week after Gent-Wevelgem, was an important lesson in where I can still grow and improve. As well as the Amstel Gold Race, the Classic that is less suited to my characteristics and where I still managed to finish eighth. 

The victories give you awareness, but perhaps it's from the races where you don't win that you learn the most valuable lessons. My stated goal is to become a Classics hunter. Those in which I'm struggling now, I'd like them to become my hunting ground in the future. Paris-Roubaix included, which I'll be racing on Saturday. 

In all honesty, I don't feel ready to be competitive in the Enfer du Nord yet. In short, we still have to get to know each other better... Last year, was an extreme challenge, made more so by the weather conditions than by the cobblestones. I suffered pain in my hands for days, but this year I will be more prepared. My hope is that we can at least race in dry conditions. The rest, we'll only find out as we race.

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Elisa Balsamo surprised the cycling world - and herself - when she outsprinted Marianne Vos to win the 2021 World Championship road race in Leuven. The Italian had already signed a contract with Trek-Segafredo and for 2022 brings the prestigious world champion’s jersey into the team. A highly-decorated Junior in both road and track, Elisa’s promise continued when she entered the pro ranks, taking victories in GP Bruno Beghelli (2018), a stage at the Tour of California (2019) and the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta (2020). The 2021 season was a breakthrough year for the 23-year-old, winning GP Oetingen and a stage at the Women’s Tour alongside the World title. Possessing a fast sprint, hard one-day races suit her best.