Finding success is hard, even for the best of us, but repeating that success can be a much tougher task. Although she joked in a team press release earlier this month that she'd like to nab fewer fourth places, Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) says she would jump at the opportunity to enjoy another year like 2016.
Last year, Longo Borghini claimed an Olympic medal, third at the European Championships, the Italian national time trial title, the mountains classification at the Giro Rosa and victory at the Giro dell'Emilia. There were a few close calls elsewhere – such as two second places at the Giro – that could have been more, but it was not a year to be sniffed at by anyone's standards.
"I would sign right now if they told me that I would have another season like that," the 25-year-old told Cyclingnews during a rest day at a self-organised training camp in Gran Canaria.
The result that sticks out for Longo Borghini more than any other was the bronze she took in Rio, following a dramatic race in blustery conditions.
"If I'm thinking about it, I'm still getting a bit emotional because it's something that you dream of when you are a child, and you don't really understand what you are going to do until you do I," she said. "Trying to describe the Olympics, I think it's impossible. You need to live them and feel them to understand what they are."
The Olympic Games can often be given second billing in the world of cycling but, with the competition only taking place every four years, making your country's selection is an honour for any athlete. For Longo Borghini, whose brother Paolo was also a professional cyclist, going to the Olympics was an opportunity to follow in her parent's footsteps. Her mother Guidina Dal Sasso was a cross country skier who competed in three Winter Olympic Games. Her father went to five Olympics, not as an athlete but a technician with the Italian team.
"For them, it was a different feeling. Of course, their daughter was there to race, but I think, somehow, they were even tenser and more excited than me," she explained. "My dad didn't show so much, but he was the most emotional one, especially when I won the medal. He was very proud, and I'm very happy to have made them proud and to have maybe somehow taken the medal that my mother could have had if she didn't have me in 1991."
After a full season that only ended at the World Championships in mid-October, Longo Borghini was eager to get on her post-season holiday. She spent some time off the bike, using running as a mode of staying in shape.
"It's a very nice way of keeping yourself fit but also for me it is a real hobby," she said. "Running uphill on the trails and in the woods is very nice. I don't like to run on the asphalt or on a track. I just like to run uphill in the mountains. I like to go up."
Going up will be her modus operandi this season as she, along with many of her contemporaries, targets the Ardennes Classics. While there has been an Amstel Gold Race in the past and Flèche Wallonne has been a staple of the women's calendar for quite some time, this year will be the first time that the women will have a programme comparable to the men. Standalone races are important for the women's calendar but running in conjunction with men's races will be an opportunity for the sport to reach a wider audience.
"For me, it's very exciting to be honest because they are very nice races and Classic races, and us girls deserve to have some exposure like that. It's very good for women's cycling to show that we are there and I think people realise how we work," said Longo Borghini.
Longo Borghini's home race of the Giro d'Italia will also be a key target during the season, as will the World Championships in Bergen. The Italian has a very good record at the Worlds after taking bronze in Valkenburg in 2012. She finished eighth the following year in Florence, despite being in a wheelchair at one point during the season. In Richmond 2015, she fell just short of a medal when she finished fourth in both the time trial and the road race.
She will again be aiming for both of the individual competitions but, while the course in Bergen suits her very well, she is reluctant to make any bold claims about what the future might hold.
"I improved a lot and I think that I still have time to grow up a bit," she said of her development since 2012. "I think I will be mature in maximum two years. What can I say? 2012 I got bronze. I'm a bit older now and maybe I can be on the podium now but you never know. It's the World Championships and you can be fit and anything can happen. I can't say now that I'm for sure going for a medal. I will be in my best shape and the race will decide. There are only three spots on the podium.
"You can be worth a podium but you might not get it. It all depends on the race and I'm not there alone, other people will be racing there to win."
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