The Italian was – in her own words – a surprise winner at the end of a week which saw much of the commentary centre around Belgium's Lotte Kopecky and the Netherlands' Marianne Vos. Balsamo outsprinted the latter in the closing metres of the 157.7-kilometre race following a stellar lead-out from teammate Elisa Longo Borghini.
Balsamo, whose other win this season came in the GP Oetingen, 50 kilometres away from Leuven, said that 2021 hasn't been an easy season for her, and that she focussed entirely on the goal of the Worlds following her Olympic disappointment, which included sixth place as part of Italy's team pursuit squad.
"For me, this wasn't an easy season," she said in the post-race press conference. "I trained a lot for the track and the Olympics didn't go as I hoped. So, when I came back from Tokyo, I trained really hard only for this big goal. This is my revenge for the season, so I'm very happy.
"I'm surprised. My team were super good today. We did such a perfect race, and the lead out was perfect. For me, it's unbelievable to wear this jersey and I'm so happy."
Unlike other big names such as bronze medallist, Poland's Kasia Niewiadoma, Spain's Mavi García and many of the Dutch women, Balsamo chose to bide her time in the ever-reducing peloton rather than go on the attack before the finish.
Just as the 23-year-old had flown under the radar in the build-up to Saturday, she did the same during the four-hour race which took in 19 major climbs and more besides.
"The sprint was for me," Balsamo said of the Italian tactics late on. "I had to survive until the sprint and so it wasn't an easy race but in the end, in the last two laps my team did a great race, and we were in every attack, and then also the lead-out was so good. The last kilometre wasn't easy, but I like this kind of sprint a little bit uphill. I knew that I would have to wait and not start my sprint from too long.
"We did a great lead-out not only with Elisa [Longo Borghini] but also Maria Giulia [Confalonieri] and Marta [Cavalli]. They were perfect. I said to myself that you have to switch off your brain and go full gas. Don't think, push hard. I really want to watch the sprint back on the TV because I really don't realise what we did."
For Balsamo, who said that she's studying classics – antiquity rather than the bike races – and hopes to become a journalist after her career, this rainbow jersey is not the first of her career, having won the junior road title back in 2016 as well as three junior titles on the track. She said that this one means the most of the lot, however.
"I think that this jersey is completely different because the junior jersey is good for you, a good motivation to keep on training. But this one is the elite World Championships jersey so it's more, more, more important and yes, this one is forever."
Balsamo's first outing in her new rainbow jersey will come at next week's inaugural edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, she said, with the Women's Tour – her last race for her current team Valcar-Travel & Service before a move to Trek-Segafredo for 2022.
"I really don't know about the Track World Championships but now I will race Roubaix and then the Women's Tour.
"I think that for my team – Valcar – this jersey can change the team. I really hope that it can help them to find some sponsor and help make a good team for the other girls. For us it's something really big."
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Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content on Cyclingnews and takes on live race text coverage throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Tro-Bro Léon, Strade Bianche, and the Vuelta a España.
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