Elisa Balsamo is on a remarkable winning streak claiming back-to-back victories at Brugge-De Panne, Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Gent-Wevelgem. Still, some have questioned whether she is suited to Sunday's more challenging route at the Tour of Flanders.
On Friday, the World Champion laid speculation to rest, stating, "I'm going to fight and try to survive," classing De Ronde as her priority.
"Yes, Flanders, and these [Spring Classics] weeks have been very important in my season. Now, I'm in good shape, and I'm going to rest after this, so this is a big goal," Balsamo said.
"It's a hard race, and it will also be cold and maybe wet, and the race will be harder. I also think that many teams want to make the race full-gas because they don't want a sprint. Of course, I'm going to fight and try to survive on the last hills. We have different riders who can make the race, so I don't feel pressure, and I'll only try to do my best."
Balsamo won the world title in a reduced bunch sprint at the UCI Road World Championships held in Flanders last fall. So far this season, she has won four races but said that returning to Flanders wearing the rainbow jersey will be a special moment.
"For me, it's always an honour to wear this jersey. I won this jersey in Belgium, and it's special to race here again, as last weekend [at Gent-Wevelgem]. I know [Tour of Flanders] is a very hard race, but we are a great team, so we have some different solutions. As I said before, I want to enjoy this jersey from the first day to the last day."
At just 24 years old, Balsamo spoke of her childhood and being introduced to cycling through her parents' love of the sport.
Her father was at the finish line of Gent-Wevelgem when she secured her third consecutive victory this month for Trek-Segafredo, and she said he would be watching her race on Sunday at the Tour of Flanders.
"My parents are here, and they were here also last week, and it's so amazing winning in front of them. When I was a child, they gave me a love for the bike. They love cycling, and it's always beautiful winning with my parents and the people you love there. They have supported me every day since I was a child. It's good to share these beautiful moments," she said of her family.
Balsamo, Van Dijk, Longo Borghini
Balsamo will line up with a powerful Trek-Segafredo team that includes former Tour of Flanders winners Elisa Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk, Lucinda Brand, Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Leah Thomas, one of the strongest teams on at the Tour of Flanders.
The trio of Van Dijk, Longo Borghini and Balsamo appear to have the winning connection, often shown on television working together in the finals.
However, Longo Borghini spoke of how important it is for those watching the races to understand that cycling is a team sport. The live broadcast often only shows the final 30-40km of the women's top-tier races and those riders involved in the finals, without revealing the first two-thirds of how are race unfolds.
"You see the three of us working together very well, because you see the finals of the race [on TV], but we have three other riders who give their all from the beginning to three-quarters of the race, and then we are in action. It is not only us three, but the team together is working very well. Many other riders work in the shadows because of [limited] live streaming, and you can't see them working very well, all together as Trek-Segafredo," Longo Borghini said.
Balsamo thanked her teammates for support during the Spring Classics and noted her appreciation for Longo Borghini and Van Dijk's work.
"There is good communication between us during the races, which is important. It's an honour that such super big champions like Elisa and Ellen work for me. That is cycling, and this is a team; cycling is a team sport, and in the last races, we've shown this."
In Flanders, the women's peloton will race 159km, including 11 climbs. The most decisive climbs will be the Koppenberg, a new addition to the women's route this year, the Kruisberg/Hotond, and then back-to-back Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg before the 14km run-in to Oudenaarde.
Balsamo is the favourite, mainly as she is on an unbeatable winning streak. Still, there are other favourites in the race that include Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), and SD Worx trio of Lotte Kopecky, Demi Vollering, and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak.
Vollering noted that it would be important for her team SD Worx to distance Balsamo on the climbs while isolating Van Vleuten as they did in their winning strategy at Strade Bianche, where Kopecky took the victory.
Van Dijk noted the similarities between SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo but was doubtful anyone would distance Balsamo at the Tour of Flanders.
"We always have Elisa Balsamo as an option. It's never that we cannot do anything in a race besides bringing Balsamo to the finish, but for sure, with this option, it is the best card to play in a sprint. As we know, Flanders doesn't always end up in a sprint, and we will see what the race will bring us," Van Dijk said.
"They are thinking of getting rid of Balsamo, but I know how strong she is, so good luck with that."
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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.
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