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Elisa Balsamo: The rise of a World Champion

ROUBAIX FRANCE OCTOBER 02 Elisa Balsamo of Italy and Team Valcar Travel Service World Champion Jersey prepares for the race prior to the 1st ParisRoubaix 2021 Womens Elite a 1164km race from Denain to Roubaix ParisRoubaixFemmes ParisRoubaix on October 02 2021 in Roubaix France Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images
Elisa Balsamo racing for Valcar-Travel & Service in 2021 before switching over to Trek-Segafredo for the 2022 season (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

World Champion Elisa Balsamo plans to make the most of her year in the rainbow jersey – aiming for significant targets at the Spring Classics, Giro d’Italia Donne and Tour de France Femmes in 2022 – but before the season begins the newest member of Trek-Segafredo looks back on her pathway to the top of one of the world’s toughest sports. 

At just 23 years old, the powerful sprinter has only been racing on the professional cycling circuit for five seasons. Balsamo attributes much of her growth and success to the Italian-based Continental team Valcar-Travel & Service.

“I decided to stay in Valcar because we grew together and they let me grow step-by-step without any pressure,” Balsamo said.

When she first joined Valcar in 2017, she said team manager Davide Arzeni supported her dreams of becoming one of the best riders in the world. It is a team with a small but focussed lead-out that has supported Balsamo to stage wins at the Tour of California, Challenge by La Vuelta, and in one-day races like the GP Oetiingen, Dwars door de Westhoek, Omloop van Borsele and Trofee Maarten Wynants, along with numerous other podiums. 

“Valcar is a second family for me, and we grew up together. I had been with Valcar since my first year as a junior, so we stayed together many years. They believed in me from the first time we met, and we worked together step-by-step, and since I arrived to win the World Championships,” Balsamo said.

“I’ve learned a lot from the team and Davide, but we knew that I needed another step, and this is why I decided to go to Trek-Segafredo in 2022, a WorldTeam with big champions so that I can continue to grow.”

Indeed, she secured the most significant victory of her career when she beat Marianne Vos in a sprint to win the elite women’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Flanders last September. Her win was also, in part, due to the impeccable tactics of the Italian National Team and the support of her compatriots Maria Giulia Confalonieri, Marta Bastianelli and Elisa Longo Borghini in the final kilometres through Leuven. 

Joining forces with Longo Borghini was one of the biggest draws to Trek-Segafredo for Balsamo. She believes that she can help Longo Borghini win the Tour de France Femmes while also focusing on stage victories. She also pointed to a unique dynamic, since they are already teammates on the Italian National Team. They also share more in common than a nationality and first name, competing for the same club GS Fiamme Oro, the sports section of the Italian police force Polizia di Stato. She said that she looks to Longo Borghini to help her become better acquainted with her new surroundings at Trek-Segafredo.

“It was a great season for me, especially in the last part of the season at the World Championships. I love working with Elisa, and I think that the World Championships was maybe the best race we did together, yes, she did a great job there, and sometimes I work hard for her, too. We are very different riders because I’m a sprinter and she’s a climber, but I think that maybe this is a [important] point because we can help each other a lot. I know her well, and she will help me with this move to get to know the team, teammates, staff,” Balsamo said.

LEUVEN BELGIUM SEPTEMBER 25 Elisa Balsamo of Italy celebrates winning with Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy after the 94th UCI Road World Championships 2021 Women Elite Road Race a 1577km race from Antwerp to Leuven flanders2021 on September 25 2021 in Leuven Belgium Photo by Alex Broadway PoolGetty Images

Elisa Longo Borghini was pivotal in Elisa Balsamo's win at Road World Championships 2021 and her grin was nearly just as that of her Italian teammate (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

As a sprinter, Balsamo knows that she is joining a team that includes one of the best in the peloton, Chloe Hosking. She said she’s looking forward to sharing the sprinting responsibilities with Hosking while also learning a few new tricks of the trade.

“We can help each other, one time her turn and one time my turn, and I think I can be her last rider and she mine, so, we can work together very well. I can learn from her, especially how to move in the last kilometres of the race because she is so good with that and she can teach me. I want to learn how she moves in the peloton during the last kilometre,” Balsamo said.

Balsamo is keen to get to know her new lead-out train at Trek-Segafredo, too. “We can work in our lead-out because there are so many super-strong riders. We need to work together, know how to move together, and I’m sure that we can also make a great lead-out.”

The rider is now a champion among champions in a team that includes other former and current world champions from Lizzie Deignan, Ellen van Dijk and Lucinda Brand to Amalie Dideriksen. Even while wearing the rainbow bands, Balsamo feels that she can learn from her new teammates

“It’s a big step to come up to the WorldTour, and Trek is a big team with a great organisation. I can learn a lot from my teammates, who are all big champions. I have to grow up with this new experience. I am happy about my team decision. I also think that my teammates can help me with the rainbow jersey because it is not an easy jersey, but they have a lot of experience, and they are strong, so together it will be easier,” she said.

Asked what a successful season would look like in 2022, Balsamo said: “It will be a new experience, and I’m positive about it, and I hope for some wins. I know that it will be difficult, but I am ready to work hard for it.”

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Kirsten Frattini

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.