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Elisa Longo Borghini delivers race animating near miss at Gent-Wevelgem

Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) in the Women's WorldTour leader jersey and Soraya Paladin (Liv Racing) out the front at Gent-Wevelgem 2021
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Soraya Paladin (Liv Racing) out the front at Gent-Wevelgem (Image credit: Getty Images)

It's been a strong start to the 2021 season for Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo). The runner-up place in the Strade Bianche at the beginning of March was followed two weeks later by a spectacular solo victory in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, also putting the Italian champion in the lead of the UCI Women’s WorldTour.

Wearing the purple jersey of the series leader, she again made her mark on the race in Gent-Wevelgem. After her Trofeo Binda victory, Longo Borghini had said that “if there is an option to attack, I will always choose to attack” and she was certainly true to her word in the West-Flemish classic, attacking from a small group 20 kilometres from the finish. The 29 year old was accompanied by fellow Italian Soraya Paladin (Liv Racing) and it was a move they almost drove to the line.

Even when the chasing group had latched onto the duo around the 500-metre to go mark, Longo Borghini refused to give up and accelerated one last time, staying at the front of the race until she was passed by the sprinters with only 300 metres left.

“I feel pretty tired, but I did what I could. Maybe I was a bit unlucky, the deviation because of a fire meant the race was two kilometres longer … but this is cycling. The race is not over until the finish,” said Longo Borghini after the race.

The Kemmelberg saw Longo Borghini’s first move, pushing up the steep cobbled climb from the bottom and splintering the peloton. At the top, only Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) was still on her wheel, but they were eventually joined by riders from the chasing groups.

In the 40-strong peloton that formed, Trek-Segafredo was represented by Longo Borghini, Ellen van Dijk, Lizzie Deignan, and Ruth Winder. With this firepower, the team strung out and split the peloton in the crosswinds, putting Longo Borghini, Deignan, and Van Dijk in the first echelon of nine riders. And when Longo Borghini was at the front with Van Dijk and Deignan behind her, the British veteran made the call to let her go.

“We had the numbers, but not a proper sprinter, so we decided to put everyone in the gutter. And all of a sudden I found myself in front and I had a go," said Longo Borghini. "Paladin joined me and we worked pretty well together until the final. In the end Soraya was not really cooperating, that was understandable.

“I am a bit disappointed but there is nothing you can do. You can only give your best and then sometimes that means a victory and sometimes you get caught at 300 metres to go. That is cycling, we take it like it is, and we have to go on. There is another race on Wednesday and another interesting one on Sunday.”

Given the shape she is currently in, Longo Borghini has to be considered among the top favourites for both Dwars door Vlaanderen as well as the Tour of Flanders.