Has there ever been such a universally popular winner of a bike race? You only had to look at the scenes beyond the finish line on the Castellana in Madrid, as riders queued up to offer their congratulations, to get a measure of the esteem in which Cylance's Giorgia Bronzini is held by the women's peloton.
The 35-year-old Italian, making her final racing appearance before hanging up her wheels, won the road stage of the Madrid Challenge on Sunday to make it a fairytale ending to a career that has spanned more than 15 years and featured more than 80 victories – among them three world titles.
There were losers, of course, and, at the top level of the sport, it matters, but defeat seemed a little easier for everyone to swallow at the weekend.
"It was a bit of a disappointment for me, but overall I'm really happy for Giorgia – I couldn't have wished for more today, actually," Mitchelton-Scott's Jolien D'hoore, winner of the two previous editions of the race, told Cyclingnews.
"I was hoping that she would win the race, even though I had two teammates with her there in the break. She deserves it so much. She's a true champion."
"I couldn't stop hugging her," said the Italian, who rode with Bronzini on the Wiggle team between 2015 and 2017, and for the national team since long before.
"For me, Giorgia is not only a teammate, she's a friend. I first met her in 2010 when I was still a junior and there we were racing a national race. Of course, I looked up to her. Then we met again in Copenhagen in 2011 at the World Championships, and for me it was very emotional when she won.
"Then I was with her at Wiggle for many years," said Longo Borghini. "Giorgia is one of those characters who are always there at the right moment. She always has a good word for everyone, and she makes everybody okay when there's a difficult situation.
"Today, it was very emotional for me to see her winning. It's also a bittersweet feeling to know that it's her last race."
Longo Borghini is one of many who would not be the rider they are today without the influence of Bronzini. It seems as though everyone – even those who've never raced in the same colours – has learned something from her.
"Giorgia is the rider behind many of my victories – behind Flanders, behind Strade Bianche, behind the Olympics," continued Longo Borghini.
"Maybe she won some races not because she was the strongest, but because she was the smartest. From her I learned to be cold, and to be opportunistic."
The same goes for D'hoore, who raced alongside Bronzini from 2015 to 2017.
"I only have positive memories," said the Belgian. "I started racing with her as a teammate in 2015 with Wiggle-Honda, and she taught me everything. I was like a nobody at that point – I knew nothing, actually – and she taught me everything.
"She taught me how I had to position myself for a sprint, and things like that. A lot of the important stuff, she taught me, and she still is teaching me now in the bunch, even though she's not on the same team. She's a true champion. I have so much respect for her."
A patronne and a clown
Respect is a word that crops up regularly when talking about Bronzini. The notion of a 'patron' – or 'patronne' in the feminine – of the peloton, a respected figure who calls the shots, has become somewhat outdated in professional cycling, but if there's someone who fitted the mould in the women's peloton, it was surely Bronzini.
"It doesn't only have to do with results, but also her behaviour. Of course, she can be really furious as a sprinter, but you also saw her working for teammates and behaving kind of like a boss in the peloton. If there was something that needed someone to speak out about it, she was the one who would stand up. She could do that and maybe change something."
D'hoore added, in a similar vein: "If everybody respects her it's because she has so much respect for everybody as well. It's mutual.
"If there was something going on in the bunch, she spoke up and everyone would listen to her. She was the real captain of the bunch. We will miss her, for sure."
Yet her sense of humour was never far away.
"She is always joking. She's more like a clown. She's a good storyteller as well. She animates the team and ensures there's a good atmosphere," said D'hoore. "I was always joking with her within the bunch, together with her teammate Marta Tagliaferro. The three of us were like the clowns in the bunch."
It seemed that no one has a bad word to say about Giorgia Bronzini.
Along with the tributes and congratulations, there was one sentiment that hung unanimously in the Madrid air on Sunday evening: "We'll miss her."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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