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Longo Borghini and Brand: The leader and lieutenant at the Giro d'Italia Donne

Italian Champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) wins Trofeo Alfredo Binda
Italian Champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) wins Trofeo Alfredo Binda (Image credit: Getty Images)

Trek-Segafredo will be one of the strongest teams on paper when the Giro d'Italia Donne opens with a team time trial from Fossano to Cuneo on Friday. The squad will be racing for leader Elisa Longo Borghini and her lieutenant Lucinda Brand, a tough-to-beat duo as they pursue the maglia rosa.

"I approach the Giro with great calm," said Longo Borghini, who recently defended her title at the Italian Road Championships. "I feel good and happy to be back in the race with my team. It will be the last step of the long road to Tokyo, but for sure, it's not just a transit race to the Olympics. It's a very important event in my season, regardless. I'm here to do well, the best I can and, of course, to honour my Tricolore jersey in my own country."

Trek-Segafredo announced that their roster would include the two potential GC threats of Longo Borghini and Brand, along with Lizzie Deignan, Ruth Winder, Ellen van Dijk and Tayler Wiles.

Last year, Longo Borghini finished third, behind winner Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM). She has yet to stand on the top step of the podium but the 29 year old has regularly been high in the rankings. Longo Borghini finished 8th in 2019, 10th in 2018, 2nd in 2017, 11th in 2016, 8th in 2015, and 5th in 2014.

"My relationship with the Giro is a bit strange," Longo Borghini told Cyclingnews. "I like it because it's the longest race; it's tough and highly coveted. But in my history at the Giro, I always suffered a bad day that usually costs me a lot in GC. Let's see if something is going to change this year."

Longo Borghini will have support from Brand, a potential GC contender in her own right, after finishing 6th in 2019, 4th in 2018, and 7th in 2017. The reigning cyclo-cross World Champion told Cyclingnews that although she provides a good second-option for Trek-Segafredo in the general classification, her primary goal is to support Longo Borghini in the mountains.

"The main thing is that I am ready to support Elisa in the finals and on the longer climbs," Brand said. "I think I can have a really good level to help Elisa in the mountains, and we can take advantage of that. It's always good to have one or two extra riders who can be up there on the big climbs; not all the teams have this advantage. If we're lucky, perhaps there will be a day that I can go in a breakaway to look for a stage win.

"It's not realistic for me to go for the best GC result. I will not give up a good result straight away, though, because I think it's an advantage for the team and Elisa to have more people who are close on GC for as long as possible. I won't give up anything straight away. We need to see how things are going, and how the stages look, to figure out how to race the smartest."

Monte Matajur

Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 9 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 9 profile to Monte Matajur (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

The Giro d’Italia Donne race will travel through the mountainous northern regions of Italy that include Piemonte, Lombardia, Liguria, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia Giulia. The racing begins with a team time trial in Fossano to Cuneo, includes an uphill time trial on stage 4, two mountain top finishes on stage 2 at Prato Nevoso and stage 9 at Monte Matajur, which is the penultimate stage before concluding in Cormons on July 11.

"This year's course is demanding from the start, with a very tough opening team time trial and the summit finish in Prato Nevoso, after which the GC will begin to take shape. The race will be decided by the hilly time trial in Formazza and the 'queen' stage on Matajur," Longo Borghini said.

Key riders have opted not to compete at the Giro d'Italia Donne, including former two-time winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) as they prepare for the Olympic Games. Despite their absence, Longo Borghini believes there will be plenty of competition for the maglia rosa.

"As contenders, I think Anna Van der Breggen and her team [SD Worx] are the favourites. I also don't underestimate Mikayla Harvey with Canyon-SRAM and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig with FDJ," Longo Borghini said.

Form

Lucinda Brand at Thüringen Ladies Tour

Lucinda Brand at Thüringen Ladies Tour (Image credit: Getty Images)

Longo Borghini said she arrives at the Giro d’Italia Donne in good shape. She had a strong spring classics campaign with a win at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and podium finishes at Strade Bianche, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. She recently spent time at an altitude training camp and then won double titles in the time trial and road race at the Italian Road Championships.

"My starting condition is good. I did some intense work between May and June in the mountains at Sestriere, and then I raced the National Championships," Longo Borghini said. "The time trial and road race victories have been a pleasant confirmation of my feeling. However, I feel the need to test myself first, and the first two stages will be useful to understand how much I can aim to GC or look for stage wins."

Brand signed a contract with Trek-Segafredo to be one of the team leaders in 2020. However, COVID-19 shut down early-season racing, and she fell ill during the revised calendar. Still, she went on to a stellar cyclo-cross campaign, where she won the world title, which later led into a strong first part of the 2021 road season, where she recently won the overall title at Thüringen Ladies Tour.

"It was disappointing not to be able to show my real level, especially because I was new to the team, and it wasn't nice to have the first season like that. Everyone had to deal with it, and I just had to focus on getting ready for the next one," Brand told Cyclingnews.

"It felt great to win on the road at Thüringen. Sometimes, you have days where you feel good but then don't take the win, which can be difficult. Once you're racing to win again, it's a great feeling, and it's never just you but also the strength of the whole team."

Brand said that her victory at Thüringen Ladies Tour has given her a lot of confidence heading into the Giro d'Italia Donne, but she's realistic about how strong the field will be in Italy.

"I have good confidence now to know that I can race at the highest level and win. I'm also down to earth, and so every time you are on the start line, it's a new race, and everyone has the same chance – we are all starting at zero," Brand said. "I would like to be able to race, play the game on the road, and as long as I can do that, then I'm a happy person."

Raising the bar

Elisa Longo Borghini wearing the Women's WorldTour leader's jersey at the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas

Elisa Longo Borghini wearing the Women's WorldTour leader's jersey at the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Giro d'Italia Donne was downgraded to a 2.Pro Series for the 2021 edition, after last year it failed to provide the required live television and also faced other organisational concerns. However, new organiser PMG Sport stepped in to give the race a complete makeover with fresh branding and marketing initiatives and promises of better security and some live broadcasting, all to win back its status on the Women's WorldTour.

Organisers have confirmed that they will provide a live television and streaming broadcast of the 10-day event; however, only of the last 15 kilometres of each stage, which fits inside a broader live 60-minute package that includes the podium ceremony and post-race rider interviews and analysis.

"I heard about their plans to change the organisation and step up, which I think is a good goal for that race to come back up to the WorldTour. I think they realise that they had to change something with regards to its professionalism," Brand said.

"I think they were far behind where women's cycling has grown, and it was good that the UCI pointed out that they needed to raise their level. It's great that they are aiming to get to that level again. Those types of longer races with mountains ... we don't have many like that, so it's nice to have these races on the WorldTour calendar."

Kirsten Frattini

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the 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 cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.