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Elisa Longo Borghini: Feet on the ground at Imola World Championships

Elisa Longo Borghini and the Italian national team preview the road race course at Imola World Championships
Elisa Longo Borghini and the Italian national team preview the road race course at Imola World Championships (Image credit: Massimo Fulgenzi)

Elisa Longo Borghini is one of the favourites to win the elite women’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Imola, Italy this Saturday. The Italian arrives in top form, after two stage wins and an overall podium at the Giro Rosa, and could be the rider who brings the rainbow jersey back to Italy for the first time since Giorgia Bronzini won back-to-back titles nearly a decade ago. 

Longo Borghini isn’t putting that kind of pressure on her shoulders, however, and remained realistic about her chances of winning the road race world title in an interview with Cyclingnews on Wednesday.

"I don’t know, to be fair, and I’ve never been one to walk on the clouds," Longo Borghini said. "I’m feeling fine and I’m OK, and I’ve been doing well and feeling good in the races. A championship is always a special race, everything from the Nationals to Europeans and up to the Worlds. I’m on form and I will try to perform at my best."

The Italian team competing in Imola has not been confirmed, however, there are nine riders on the preliminary start list including Elisa Balsamo, Sofia Bertizzolo, Marta Cavalli, Elena Cecchini, Elena Franchi, former world champion and bronze medallist in 2018 Tatiana Guderzo, Erica Magnaldi, Soraya Paladin, Katia Ragusa, Ilaria Sanguineti and Debora Silvestri. Longo Borghini said the final selection would be made closer to the race on Saturday.

"The national coach will decide it soon," Longo Borghini said. "Right now we are here with nine riders and the national coach will decide who races. I will be racing for sure."

Longo Borghini has had one of her best seasons to date, during the revised calendar that started at the end of July where she secured two podium performances at Clasica Femenina Navarra and Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria. She then won the time trial title at the Italian championships and put forth a stellar performance to secure the silver medal at the European Championships. She then helped her Trek-Segafredo teammate Lizzie Deignan to victories at GP de Plouay and La Course. 

At Giro Rosa, that concluded on Saturday, Longo Borghini help Trek-Segafredo to victory in the opening team time trial and she took the first maglia rosa of the nine-day race. She then won stage 8 and finished third overall on the podium behind winner Anna van der Breggen and runner-up Kasia Niewiadoma. 

Asked if the one week between the end of the Giro Rosa and the elite women’s road race at the World Championships was enough time to recover, Longo Borghini said she was feeling good, despite having a cold.

"I don’t feel bad, I have a little cold but nothing special, but overall I feel good and I feel like I recovered since the Giro," Longo Borghini said. "I have two more days of recovering and so it’s fine and I’m glad to be racing the World Championships, especially because they are in Italy." 

Depsite winning the time trial title at the end of August, Longo Borghini said she decided to skip the event at the World Championships, held on Thursday, because the flat 31.7km course did not suit her.

"I decided not to do it this year because I wasn’t sure if I would be well recovered [in time] after the Giro," she said. "The time trial this year doesn’t really suit me so it was better skip it."

The women’s peloton will compete along a challenging 143km road race circuit (5 laps) on Saturday that starts and finishes at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, and it includes 2,800 metres of climbing.

"I’m always happy when there is such a nice race in my own country," Longo Borghini said. "The course is really nice. I previewed it this morning and it’s really hard, in my opinion, but on such a nice loop in a very nice area of Italy."

Bronzini was the last Italian to win the elite women’s road race world title with back-to-back victories in 2010 in Geelong and 2011 in Copenhagen. Since then, Italy has secured bronze medals if 2012 in Valkenburg with Longo Borghini, 2013 in Florence with Rossella Ratto, and in 2018 in Innsbruck with Guderzo. 

Asked if this was the year to bring the rainbow jersey back to Italy, Longo Borghini said, "It’s always tough to answer this question because racing is so complicated. To say that we can win a race is easy, but it's harder to do, in the end, you have to race it. There are opponents that also want to win the race. I think our national team is on form, and we can do well, but the race will show."