Taking it day by day is a phrase often used by riders and, in the unpredictable world of professional cycling, it is a philosophy that is wise to follow. This is how Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) plans to approach the Ovo Energy Women's Tour as she continues searching for her best form after illness put a premature end to her spring campaign.
Longo Borghini finished third in last year's race behind Lizzie Deignan (Boels Dolmans) and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo Bigla). Never one to make bold pronouncements at the best of times, Longo Borghini plays her cards close to her chest ahead of this year's race. She limits herself to helping her team, focusing on her form and, if that materialises over the next five days, then a stage win. If success in the general classification follows on from that, then it's a happy bonus.
"I'm not in the same shape as I was last year because last year I was at 100 per cent and now I'm still looking for some rhythm. I'm pretty confident, and I think that I can do some good work for my team," Longo Borghini told Cyclingnews ahead of the race.
"I will take it day by day and then see where I am on the GC. I will see how I feel and I will try for sure to help my team and to be there to back them up."
Illness struck Longo Borghini during the Ardennes Week and forced her to skip Fleche Wallonne in the hope she could put up a challenge in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Her top-10 finish at the race may have looked good on paper, but Longo Borghini was still struggling and had to pull the Tour de Yorkshire from her programme. A virus had gripped her, and her gastric problems were such that she had problems getting up the stairs, let alone riding her bike.
"I was already sick before Fleche Wallonne, and then the hammer really came down during the race in Liege. I wasn't well at all, and after the race, I was KO'd," she explained. "It was pretty serious. I wasn't able to get up the stairs in my home. It was really violent.
"I had to stop for one week because I was not healthy at all. Then I started training again. I went to altitude with the police [Longo Borghini, like several Italian athletes, is part of the police force – ed.], and now I'm ready to race again."
Following a month out, Longo Borghini came back to racing at Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik late last month, where she finished fourth.
Longo Borghini picks out stage 2 of the Women's Tour as one that has piqued her interest but refrains from rubber stamping it as a potential day for victory. The out and back stage from Stoke-on-Trent features two punchy climbs in the final 50 kilometres, with the run to the line similar to the stage last year where she escaped with Deignan, Moolman-Pasio and Amanda Spratt (Orica-Scott). It was a stage that would define the general classification at the 2016 race.
The Women's Tour will take up her focus over the remainder of this week, but Longo Borghini's major goals come later this month on home soil with the Italian national championships and the Giro Rosa, two races where she has yet to taste success.
Longo Borghini came close to stage victory on two occasions during last year's Giro Rosa. She went on to win the mountains classification and finished 11th overall. In the past, she has won the youth competition and has finished as high as fifth in the standings but it is a stage win that is at the forefront of her mind.
"For sure the nationals are a big goal because I have never won the title, and then going to the Giro I would like to have a stage. It would be very nice for me to have a victory in my home race."
The Italian championships should suit her well. The race takes place in Ivrea in the Piedmont region, and the route for the women's race will feature a 10km climb early on before the punchier La Serra in the final 15 kilometres. "It's quite fast, because the final circuit is quite hard, with a three-kilometre climb and then a downhill, so I think that it could be something for me," Longo Borghini said. "But, the nationals are always really special because sometimes they don't go as you expect them."
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