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State of the Nation: Analysing Italy's women's 2021 World Championships team

Marta Cavalli, Elisa Longo Borghini and Elena Cecchini enjoy the moment after winning the Team Relay at the European Championships
Marta Cavalli, Elisa Longo Borghini and Elena Cecchini enjoy the moment after winning the Team Relay at the European Championship (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Ahead of the 2021 UCI Road World Championships, Cyclingnews is taking a deep dive into the key teams for the elite road races. Here is a look at the women representing Italy.

History

In the past 64 years, the women’s road race world championships have been held 61 times (not held three times in years with Olympic Games) and Italy has grabbed the rainbow jersey five times. The first winner was Alessandra Cappellotto in 1997. Ten years later, the Italian riders would go on a run of four titles in five years - Marta Bastianelli in 2007, Tatiana Guderzo in 2009, and Giorgia Bronzini with back-to-back crowns in 2010 and 2011. Italian riders have also garnered 17 silver and bronze medals since the competition began.

After 2011 when Bronzini last stood on the top step of the podium, the Italians have only tasted bronze, once each by Rossella Ratto in 2013, and Tatiana Guderzo in 2018, while Elisa Longo Borghini did it twice, in 2012 and 2020. Last year in her home country, Longo Borghini was third, and all five of her teammates finished the race, just one, Elisa Balsamo, was also in the top 20.

Lineup

Key riders

OUDENAARDE BELGIUM APRIL 07 Arrival Marta Bastianelli of Italy and Team Virtu Cycling European Champion Jersey Celebration Annemiek Van Vleuten of The Netherlands and Team MitcheltonScott Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig of Denmark and Bigla Pro Cycling Team during the 16th Tour of Flanders 2019 Ronde van Vlaanderen Women Elite a 1592km race from Oudenaarde to Oudenaarde RondeVlaanderen FlandersClassic RVV19 on April 07 2019 in Oudenaarde Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Marta Bastianelli in the European Championship jersey wins the 2019 Tour of Flanders (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Italian National Team will field a seven-rider team for the elite women's road race led by Elisa Balsamo, Elisa Longo Borghini, and former World Champion Marta Bastianelli. 

In 2020 in Imola, Longo Borghini took the bronze by attacking multiple times on climbs in her home country. The course in Imola in 2020 had circuits with short climbs, and she is sure to launch attacks this year, with the 157km route providing two different circuits with a total of 20 climbs. For the second season in a row, Longo Borghini scored titles in the time trial and road race at the Italian National Championships. She had victories at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and GP de Plouay, as well as the bronze medal in the road race at the Tokyo Olympic Games. While she says she is not the team leader for the road race, she is definitely a card the Italians have to play.

"Worlds is not my big focus because we have Elisa Balsamo and Marta Bastianelli, who are very strong riders on the circuit like Flanders. I’m going to be there with more of a rouleur role, which is good," Longo Borghini said.

Bastianelli won the 2018 Gent-Wevelgem in a bunch sprint. In 2019, she won Ronde van Drenthe and the Tour of Flanders, the latter from a three-rider breakaway with Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Norway) where she powered away for the win. The 34-year-old should feel right at home on the circuits of the Flanders course this Saturday, with options to help her get in the key break. She was re-energised in June with her first win in almost two years, coming from a bunch sprint on stage 2 of the Tour de Suisse Women.

A youngster at 23 years of age, Balsamo is in her fifth season as a pro rider and won the women’s junior road race title at Worlds in 2016. Last year in Imola, she finished 18th in the road race. The sprinter excels in one-day races, showing that off with eight podiums in 2019, including wins at Trofee Maarten Wynants and Dwars door de Westhoek in Belgium. In 2020 she had two stage podiums at La Vuelta and was the women’s U23 road race champion at the European Championships. This year she’s on form with nine top 10s in 16 one-day races, including the win at GP Oetingen in Belgium, two third-place finishes in April at Brabantse Pijl and Scheldeprijs, and second less than a week ago at GP International d’Isbergues.

If there was an Under-23 road competition at Worlds for the women, Cavalli would certainly be in the mix with teammate Balsamo. This is her first year on a Women’s WorldTour team and she’s developing as an all-rounder, finishing eighth in the road race at the Tokyo Olympic Games and sixth on GC at the Giro. In the spring campaign, she had five top 10s in 11 one-day races, including sixth at the Tour of Flanders.

The additional support for the “three B’s” plus Cavalli are Guazzini, Cecchini, and Confalonieri. The speedy Guazzini is just 20 and was fourth at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Considered veterans at still under the age of 30, Cecchini brings a wealth of experience on all types of terrain, and Confalonieri is another sprinter who excels in one-day races, riding to sixth on Sunday at GP International d’Isbergues.

Strengths

2020 UEC Track European Championships Plovdiv 5th Day 15112020 Madison Women Vittoria Guazzini Italy Elisa Balsamo Italy photo Dario BelingheriBettiniPhoto2020

Italian teammates Vittoria Guazzini and Elisa Balsamo won the gold in the Madison at the 2020 UEC Track European Championships (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The Italians have a triple threat for the long, punchy road race, and strong support cast with speed. There won’t be enough big climbs to intimidate this crew, especially with the aggressive nature of riders such as Longo Borghini, Balsamo and Bastianelli. Several riders, such as Cavalli and Confalonieri have shown they have some explosiveness in the legs for a sprint. Longo Borghini teamed with Cecchini and Cavalli at the European Championships on the women’s side of the team relay, which they won with a strong ride of World Champion Filippo Ganna leading the men’s leg. And Italy secured the bronze medal in the mixed relay at Worlds on Wednesday. That synergy will be good for the team in the road race.

They have several options over a long day of racing, with ample opportunities to get out of the saddle to shake up the peloton and whittle down the field to a final small bunch of contenders - with a good chance of two or more in Italian colours.

Weaknesses

Longo Borghini is always a threat, and she was the top Italian at her national races this year, and in the Olympic Games as well. But she says she is not the team leader. A bluff perhaps? The team has the experience and some eager young riders, but do they have enough to take on strong teams from Belgium, Netherlands and the US? The team will need cohesion to make sure the right rider with the strongest legs makes the break for an expected bunch sprint to the line, and go from bronze to gold.

The view from Italy

Longo Borghini spoke to Cyclingnews earlier in September and she told us that the Flanders route would be challenging, and that she would be working for teammates Balsamo and Bastianelli.

"Worlds is not my big focus because we have Elisa Balsamo and Marta Bastianelli, who are very strong riders on the circuit like Flanders. I’m going to be there with more of a rouleur role, which is good," Longo Borghini said.

"The circuit can be really hard, and if it’s bad weather or with wind, it can be underestimated by the field. It can be a very hard race if the pace is high, especially in the circuits, or where the race could start to be aggressive.

"It might not be the hardest circuit that I have ever seen in Belgium, but it can still make a difference. I see a small peloton coming to the finish line with 10 or 15 riders in a sprint."

That said, the Italians have a stacked team to attack once the field gets out on the early circuit Leuven, counter-attack when climbs come on the Flandrien circuit, get in a decisive group on final circuits and have someone with a kick to launch to the line in Leuven.

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Jackie Tyson

Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling for people of all abilities and ages. Tyson has been recognized for communications excellence with 10 Phoenix Awards, presented by the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp - and was recognized by a national media outlet as the first female depicted in a pro baseball card set (Ft. Myers Royals). She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times. Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in  Provence (France). Her favorite mountain bike rides are in Park City, Utah (USA).