Elisa Balsamo took the Women's WorldTour lead with her sprint victory at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda on Sunday afternoon, with the Italian hailing the opening months of 2022 as "the best start of the season in my career".
Last weekend she finished second at the second race of the Women's WorldTour (WWT), the Ronde van Drenthe, and in Cittiglio on Sunday she took her fourth career victory at the highest level of women's cycling.
"It has been the best start of the season in my career," Balsamo said. "The [rainbow] jersey is giving me confidence and also much emotion with all the people cheering for you and asking for photos.
"The change of team is also giving me opportunities and to be racing side by side with great riders. It is a great group of strong riders that are keen to help each other to take the win for the team.
"I am in a team that has the strength to lead the race and manage it. For a rider like me this is amazing. We create our chances and not just waiting for what the others will do."
After three rounds of the Women's WorldTour, Balsamo now lies on 720 points in the current rankings, having added 400 for her win to 320 for second in Drenthe. She lies 60 points up on Strade Bianche winner Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx), and donned the purple jersey on the podium, though she won't be wearing it in De Panne this week with her rainbow stripes taking priority.
Balsamo, who said that winning her first WWT race in Italy was "a special emotion", praised her team for their work during the race. Elisa Longo Borghini was out front covering attacks on the Orino climb 26 kilometres from the line, while European Champion Ellen Van Dijk and the impressive neo-pro Shirin van Anrooij worked to bring back moves later in the final.
"The pre-race plan was not set – we had Elisa who had freedom to attack and make a selection like last year," Balsamo said. "And our second option was a sprint finish if Elisa's attempt did not work, and that's what happened today.
"The team was perfect from the first kilometre to the last kilometre. We did a great job! At the end, we managed the sprint perfectly, all the team was with me. To have the whole team working like we did – we were perfect today.
"I really have to thank my teammates because at one point in the race we all decided to go for the sprint. Elisa, Ellen and Shirin were perfect – more than perfect – to support me. It was a great boost of confidence for me in this moment to have such great riders at my disposal.
"Of course, I have to mention the great but unseen work by Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Leah Thomas in the first part of the race. When you are able to get to the final sprint with full energy it's not only because I have good condition, but because I have teammates who saved me [expending] energy during the race and in a finish like this it's essential."
Balsamo added that she played the sprint finish to tactically end the 129.4km hilly race, starting further back in the final turn before the finishing straight as SD Worx and Canyon-SRAM led the way.
The 24-year-old jumped around the outside of Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx) just inside the final 100 metres, blazing past Sofia Bertizzolo (UAE Team ADQ), too, before hitting the line first and passionately celebrating the win.
"I am feeling good, and my morale is high," she said. "I knew that if I could pass the last climb that I had a good chance in the sprint. I think the lead-out was perfect, and I did a great sprint tactically.
"I was a bit far back in the final turn, but it was my decision to start so far back. The finish was uphill, it was fast, but the road rises at the end so as much as you can wait to start the sprint the more power you can put to the road. I think it was the right choice."
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