Madrid Challenge: Longo Borghini animates finale with solo bid for victory

MADRID SPAIN NOVEMBER 08 Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy and Trek Segafredo during the 6th Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 2020 Stage 3 a 1005km stage from Madrid to Madrid lavuelta CERATIZITChallenge20 La Vuelta on November 08 2020 in Madrid Spain Photo by Justin SetterfieldGetty Images
Italian Champion Elisa Longo Borghini at Madrid Challenge (Image credit: Getty Images)

On the flat, criterium-like finishing stage of the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta, it was Trek-Segafredo’s Elisa Longo Borghini who lit up the race on Sunday in Madrid.

Attacking 46km from the line, right after a break with her teammate Ellen van Dijk had been caught, the Italian champion stayed at the front of the race on her own for 33km, only being reeled in on the antepenultimate lap.

Longo Borghini and Van Dijk sat in second and third place in the general classification after the stage 2 ITT, but neither is a good sprinter, so the team had to lay different tactics for the 17-lap race with bonus sprints every other lap than the teams of overall leader Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) and stage 1 winner Lorena Wiebes (Team Sunweb).

“We were a small team, but we were really organized. We made the plan to attack and when I went, I tried to gain as many seconds as I could. Sadly, we lost Letizia [Paternoster] in an early crash, but I really want to thank Ellen and Audrey [Cordon-Ragot] for the great job they did behind in the peloton when I was at the front," said Longo Borghini after the race.

"They were covering all the attacks in the chase, so I am really thankful to them for backing me up so well. It was an amazing race and I’m happy with our performance and my second place in the GC."

With sports director Giorgia Bronzini, who had won the same stage from a breakaway in 2018, at the helm, Trek-Segafredo decided to ride aggressively despite having just four riders in the race – and only three after Paternoster’s crash. 

On the first laps, Van Dijk was seen chatting to Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) at the back of the peloton, and the two former world time trial champions launched an attack together that initiated a breakaway of eight riders.

The Ceratizit-WNT riders had their hands full to pull this dangerous move back, and when they succeeded, Longo Borghini reacted with a well-executed counterattack, quickly getting a substantial gap. Not deterred by the lack of companions to share the work with, she doggedly continued by herself.

Longo Borghini won the next three intermediate sprints which gave her fifteen bonus seconds. Combined with an advantage that rose to over 30 seconds, she was the virtual leader, putting the pressure on Ceratizit-WNT to bring her back in time or risk losing the red leader’s jersey.

After biding its time and only controlling the gap at just over 20 seconds, the blue and red team stepped up with three laps to go, putting several riders at the front and quickly reducing the gap to a few seconds. 

Longo Borghini was caught by the peloton with 13.1km to go, but she was not done yet, mixing it up in the final bonus sprint to take another two-second bonification. And in the sprint finish, she came in as tenth while Wiebes was passed by Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service) and had to settle for second place on the stage.

This meant that Longo Borghini’s solo was enough to defend her second place overall. On top of that, the weekend’s results also moved her up to runner-up on the 2020 UCI Women’s WorldTour ranking, with only fellow Trek-Segafredo rider Lizzie Deignan ahead of her.

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Lukas Knöfler started working in cycling communications in 2013 and has seen the inside of the scene from many angles. Having worked as press officer for teams and races and written for several online and print publications, he has been Cyclingnews’ Women’s WorldTour correspondent since 2018.