Silvia Persico has made her mark on professional bike racing as the revelation of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. The 25-year-old racing for Valcar Travel & Service finished seven of the eight stages inside the top 10 and was fifth overall, a performance that has secured her a spot on a WorldTour team in 2023.
"I will change teams next year but I can't say which team yet," Persico told Cyclingnews at the top of the La Planche des Belles Filles that closed out the Tour de France Femmes on Sunday.
Persico has shown herself as one of the most versatile athletes in women's cycling securing the bronze medal at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in January. On the road, she finished top-10 at Strade Bianche, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Gent-Wevelgem, and wore the leader's jersey at Ceratizit Festival Elsy Jacobs.
At the Tour de France Femmes, she was positioned second overall behind Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) after sprinting from a breakaway to second place on stage 2 into Provins. She slid one spot to third overall ahead of two mountain stages and then slid to sixth after stage 7 into Le Markstein.
In the finale at La Planche des Belles Filles, however, Persico capitalised on the race situation as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope) began to struggle on the steeper slopes. Her director Davide Arzeni encouraged her to push onward to move up to the top five overall.
"Silvia said she didn't feel good today. I told her not to worry. She was third in the World Championships of cyclo-cross, and she knows that when her legs feel bad, she must then use her mind and heart," Arzeni told Cyclingnews.
"She is very strong; in mind and legs. I promised Silvia before La Planche des Belles Filles that when I become a grandfather, the child's name will be Silvia or Silvio - 'so go fast'.
"In the last 2km she told us that Cecilie was in difficulty, so I told her that was the moment to try because she had a chance to be in the top 5 in the overall. This is a very good result, more than good, exceptional."
Persico laughed when Cyclingnews acknowledged Arzeni's promise. She said that he has been her coach for six years and that she would celebrate this achievement with Arzeni and Valcar Travel & Service. "If I'm here now it's because of Davide. He encouraged me to try and has helped me to do well on this team."
Sprint on La Planche
Persico began the final ascent of the Tour de France Femmes in a group chasing solo stage winner Annemiek van Vleuten, who won the overall title, and runner-up Demi Vollering (SD Worx).
The group included Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Juliette Labous (Team DSM) and Elisa Longo BOrghini (Trek-Segafredo). Niewiadoma appeared to be the strongest coming into the steep final slopes but as the road kicked up again Persico launched her sprint to finish third.
"When I started the last climb I tried to stay calm. I saw the other riders wanted to try to go full gas. I wanted to arrive in the gravel sector with good legs. When I was in the last 200 metres I started the sprint and finished third. I'm very happy," Persico said, thanking her teammates for their support throughout the eight days of racing.
She said that many people didn't believe that she could be a general classification rider and that a top-five at the Tour de France will go a long way in proving her value in stage races in future. "I finished in the top 5 at the Tour de France, and so I'm very happy," she said.
Moving up to the WorldTour
Persico confirmed to Cyclingnews that she has signed a contract with a WorldTour team for 2023, but that she could not reveal which team until August 1. She said that while she is in a leadership role at Valcar Travel & Service, she understands that next year she will likely be working for more high-profile riders.
"When I move to my next team, I must work, and when I have my chance I will try to make a good result," Persico said with some emotion at the thought of leaving Valcar Travel & Service.
"Valcar is like a second family. I'm sure that I'm the rider I am now because of the Valcar people who have helped me for the six years that I've been here. Thank you to Valentino Villa and to David Arzeni. I'm very happy to have been part of this team."
Arzeni acknowledged that Persico has learned by working for the best riders in the world during her time at Valcar Travel & Service, riders like reigning World Champion Elisa Balsamo and Marta Cavalli.
He told Cyclingnews that, despite their success, the team will not apply to become WorldTour in future. He intends to keep Valcar Travel & service as a development programme with the goal of becoming a feeder team for Women's WorldTeam.
"Silvia has spent her career working for big riders. Her performance at the Tour de France Femmes was incredible. I could cry now. I'm very happy because the focus of this team was to create riders like Balsamo, Cavalli and Persico. The role of this team is very important. It's simple to create a big team with money, for us we built something that started small and is very special," Arzeni said.
He said he was proud to see Balsamo, Cavalli and now Persico move up to the Women's WorldTour and that it fulfils the goals of the programme.
"It's right that Silvia signs with a bigger team next year. She will earn a bigger salary. We pay the riders with our passion. It's logical that Silvia is ready to join a WorldTour team - she's ready."
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