Elisa Balsamo after Paris-Roubaix 2024.

Tactical nous counts for nought as Lidl-Trek settle for second place

Lidl-Trek come close to adding to their Roubaix title haul.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 06.04.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos & Jonny Long
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If you’ve won more than half of the Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift in existence, coming away with anything but victory at a race predisposed to chaos could feel like a disappointment.

The immediate reaction from Lidl-Trek’s Elisa Balsamo, second behind world champion Lotte Kopecky, did seem to be one of regret at coming up a few metre’s short after kilometres of cobbles and one of the sport’s biggest prizes waiting inside the Roubaix velodrome.

“Yes, for sure after the finish line I was a little bit disappointed,” Balsamo said in her press conference, “but if today you would have told me I’d be second I wouldn’t have believed you.”

The Italian’s verdict of “it was big teamwork today” referred to the efforts of teammate Ellen van Dijk, who only six months ago gave birth, returned to the Hell of the North and led from the front, putting in attacks as part of a multi-threat Lidl-Trek attack that has been so successful here in the past.

“I had the freedom to try and to go so I was happy with that, and I tried a couple of times but it’s hard to get away,” Van Dijk said in the velodrome afterwards. “I had good legs and I’m happy with my shape right now, and this is a good race for me, it suits me. I was a bit scared ahead of this race for crashes and everything, but I’m really happy I’m still in one piece.”

The reason for no successful solo attacks?

“There was a lot of tailwind so the speed was really high and it was hard to make a difference,” Van Dijk explained. “I think that’s why there weren’t so many attacks.”

After Van Dijk, Kopecky, and Marianne Vos, amongst others, had prised themselves away from the groups behind, the call came for Van Dijk to stop working in the group to potentially allow for Balsamo to re-join (which she did) and then commit to the sprint.

Pfeiffer Georgi and Elisa Balsamo bridge to the front group at Paris-Roubaix 2024.
Pfeiffer Georgi and Elisa Balsamo bridge to the front group.

“There was still a group behind so we wanted to keep them away, of course,” Van Dijk said of why she still cooperated in the group as the final race situation began to unfurl, “and if they were still far enough behind we could try something, but once they came a little closer we thought, ‘okay, we go for the sprint,’ because by then I knew I didn’t have the legs or the speed to really make a difference anymore.”

Instead, the call came to go all-in for Balsamo.

“Of course we had a lot of fast riders in the group,” Van Dijk continued, “so we know Balsamo is really fast and is also a good track sprinter, which helps here, but so is Kopecky, and Marianne Vos, so we wanted to let Vos do some work and she did that also, Kopecky she played it smart and was the strongest in the sprint.”

So far, according to Balsamo afterwards, everything was going to plan.

“Yes, we wanted to take the first three cobbled sectors all together in the front as a team, but it was really difficult because everyone was fighting so it was not really possible,” she said of the plan at the start of the day. “We just tried to stay together in the first part of the bunch because it makes a big difference. Really trying to attack because we know if you arrive solo in this race it’s the best solution.

“And then 4 km from the finish the team decided we’d go for me for the finish.”

In the end, only the world champion, probably the best rider in the world at the moment (although Kopecky wouldn’t admit it in her winner’s press conference) stood between Lidl-Trek and a 75% hit rate at the biggest one-day race in the world.

“It was a really hard race and I just thought after such a race Lotte was stronger,” Balsamo concluded. “I also think at the end of Roubaix it’s not about the fastest but who has the fresher legs. I think I did a good sprint and a really good race so I’m happy.”

A terrible question for the immediate aftermath: is there anything she would have done differently?

“Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe start the sprint a little bit later, but after the race it’s always easy to say. I was just really tired and I think I did the best I could.”

But now this result should give the former world champion confidence that she could add this other major title to her palmarès one day?

“For sure, I think I have to believe more in myself because I was also surprised to be there in the final honestly.”

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