Riding is Life


Elisa Longo Borghini and Lotte Kopecky ride side by side in a bike race.

Elisa Longo Borghini rode the perfect race at Strade Bianche

Elisa Longo Borghini didn't win Strade Bianche, but she rode the perfect race under the circumstances.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 02.03.2024 Photography by
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Elisa Longo Borghini didn’t win Strade Bianche on Saturday, that honour went to Lotte Kopecky. But against the world champion, who is proving to be something of a phenom, the Italian national champion was the next best thing.

Strade Bianche is one of Longo Borghini’s favourite races. It’s not every day you get to line up for a WorldTour “Classic” in your backyard (unless you live in Belgium). It’s definitely not every day you line up as a former winner in the tricolore in your home country.

When Longo Borghini’s form showed itself at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad one week out from Strade Bianche, everyone who remembers the Lidl-Trek rider’s victory at the 2017 edition held their breath. That win, ahead of Kasia Niewiadoma and Lizzie Deignan, was something special.

Longo Borghini’s third place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was also short of the very best, but after the season she had last year, it might as well have been first. The Italian really went through it last year, battling multiple illnesses that pretty much took her out of contention for the bulk of the season, minus some early success at the UAE Tour.

Coming into this year’s Strade Bianche, with her form on the rise, all of Italy was looking forward to watching their champion fight for victory.

From the beginning of the race, Lidl-Trek rallied around both Longo Borghini and their young Dutch rider Shirin van Anrooij. Amanda Spratt and 2016 winner Deignan set the pace while Longo Borghini waited and conserved her energy.

“We always race to win, that’s our approach to race,” Longo Borghini said of her team. “We don’t race for the podium, but second is the best I could do today. In the end, the strongest won, but we can be satisfied for what we did and how we raced. My second place is the icing on the cake, but we were really protagonists as a team. Everyone gave it all and in Siena Shirin completed our good day with 5th place. Thanks to the girls that allowed me to be on the podium and for believing in me as a leader in this hard race. I never take this for granted.”

Once the attacks started firing, from Demi Vollering and Niewiadoma mostly, Longo Borghini was on them. There was one particularly glorious moment when Vollering and Niewiadoma had just broken clear of the group and Longo Borghini was bridging to the two, but instead of tacking onto the back, she went straight past them. Ultimately the move didn’t work, but it was a lesson in how to handle that situation.

A few kilometres later, when Kopecky made the decisive move, Longo Borghini was perfectly placed at the back of the group to follow. Niewiadoma, on the wheel of Kopecky’s teammate Vollering, had an obstacle to get through. Longo Borghini could watch everything going on around her and act accordingly.

“I think we [Lidl-Trek] took our responsibility and we raced aggressively, the same I did when I followed the attack of Lotte,” Longo Borghini said. “I knew it would have been hard with her. Then, everyone has their own tactic to play. That’s cycling, but let’s give to Lotte what she deserves. She had the strongest legs.

“The finale was very exciting and really hectic. Our competitors knew that our team is strong and they tried to isolate us. I knew by instinct that Lotte’s move was the right one, I was feeling it and I didn’t hesitate to follow.”

When off the front, Kopecky had an excuse not to work as hard. It would be easy, sitting at home, comfortable on the couch, to say Longo Borghini was doing too much. But out of the two, the worst she could do was second. Make no mistake, she was still racing for the win, but the worst result she could get would have been exactly where she finished. If she’d called Kopecky’s bluff and refused to do more work, the group of Vollering and Niewiadoma would come back and she would have to settle for at worst fourth (more in the end because Van Anrooij and Kristen Faulkner joined them).

Pushing the pace, even with Kopecky on the wheel, was the right move.

Kopecky’s final acceleration into the Piazza del Campo was the hammer that cracked Longo Borghini, but still, she was guaranteed second. Which, under the circumstances, is a fantastic result for Lidl-Trek and for Longo Borghini.

“I can’t say I was expecting this second place, but I’m here and I want to enjoy it,” Longo Borghini said. “The podium last week at Opening Weekend gave me lots of confidence, it was a great boost for Strade Bianche. I feel better than expected, after a winter that was more like a rebuilding than a preparation. Now I feel good, but I’m still not at the top. Then, the morale is really high so really can’t wait to race again.”

Taking into account the strength of the world champion and what she had to overcome, Longo Borhgini rode the perfect race at Strade Bianche, and it’s only the second weekend of the spring. There are many more races to come, and her form is only going to get better.

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