Elisa Longo Borghini holds her hand to her heart as she crosses the finish line of the Olympic road race in Tokyo

Wheel Talk Newsletter: Our attention is on Italy

For Elisa Longo Borghini, wearing the pink jersey is everything.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 09.07.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
More from Abby +

Hello and welcome back to the Wheel Talk Newsletter! The Giro d’Italia Women is underway with some fantastic racing on tap this week. The race has already cued a worldwide moment of emotion, when Elisa Longo Borghini pulled on the first pink jersey of the race on Sunday, and I have a feeling there will be a lot more tears shed before next Sunday.

Plus, we’re making daily Wheel Talk mini-podcast episodes throughout the race with audio dairies from riders on the ground including Grace Brown, Lizzie Deignan, Letizia Borghesi, and more.

Olympic team selections have been pouring in after nationals and the peloton we will see contest gold in Paris in just a few weeks is starting to take shape. As each team is announced the good people at FirstCycling are filling in the start list for us, and you can check how things are looking here.

Some of the recent announcements include Australia, Great Britain, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and Switzerland.

Australia’s team, announced a few weeks ago, brings two strong options for the road race, depending on how it shakes out, and one devoted worker (who could also find herself in a good position). National champ Ruby Roseman-Gannon and Grace Brown headline the team – Roseman-Gannon is one to look for in the case of a reduced sprint while Borwn is a potential solo attacker or winner out of a small selection of riders – but possibly the more exciting addition is Lauretta Hanson.

Hanson is one of those silent workers in the peloton, constantly riding the front for others, rarely fighting for a result herself. Her selection speaks to not only how consistent and devoted she is, but also what an asset she is to any team she represents. Lidl-Trek know it; they’ve kept her on the roster since the team’s creation. Hanson is currently supporting Elisa Longo Borghini at the Giro in preparation for the Olympics, and we’re sure to see her out there working her butt off in a few of the stages.

Lauretta Hanson jokes with a teammate on the startline of a race
Hanson at the start of Dwars door het Hageland.

It’s pretty rare for a team to select someone who rides as a domestique in the regular season. Look at the Dutch team. You could argue that Ellen van Dijk is the clear domestique for Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering and Lorena Wiebes but Van Dijk has won the European championship road race representing the Netherlands, she’s won WorldTour one-days and stage races; she’s not exactly a “worker.” So for Hanson to get the spot is huge, both for her and for women’s cycling.

Belgium is a bit of a different story, but when you have someone who sits so far ahead of not only the peloton but all of their countrywoman, you build a team around that person. Lotte Kopecky is the centre of the Belgian team, joined by Justine Ghekiere, Julie van de Velde and Margot Vanpachtenbeke (recent winner of the opening stage of the Thüringen Ladies Tour).

Emma looking very aero on her time trial bike
Emma Norsgaard during the 2021 World Championship time trial. She’s fast as **** boi.

Denmark netted three spots this year instead of two like in Toyko; they’re bringing the same pair from 2021 in Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Emma Norsgaard, plus Solbjørk Minke Anderson. Uno-X Mobility’s 19-year-old Dane won the Youth Classification at the Volta Catalunya recently and finished top-10 in a few early season 1.1s, but like Hanson, she will be there mostly as support for Uttrup and Norsgaard, both of whom could be considered outside favourites.

Great Britain is coming in strong with Lizzie Deignan, Pfeiffer Georgi and Anna Henderson, plus Anna Morris. Deignan finished second behind Vos in London in the 2012 Games and will be lining up for her fourth Olympic road race. How the team will designate duties is an interesting question. It’s not like a normal race, where you have clear objectives for everyone, because standard bike racing kind of goes out the window in the Olympics. We all watched the road race in Tokyo, right? But you would still think that, of the four, Georgi as the clear “leader.”

Italy’s team is also strong. Elisa Balsamo, even after her crash and current unknown form (we will probably have an idea of it pretty soon since she’s at the Giro), was selected alongside Elena Cecchini and Silvia Persico. Cecchini is a similar rider to Hanson. In the normal season, she can be found selflessly controlling races for SD Worx-Protime. Letizia Paternoster has been amazing this season, but she will be targeting the track and the quick turnaround at this Games makes racing both more complicated. That also impacts Chiara Consonni, who will also be focusing on the track instead of lining up on the road. Balsamo is also riding on the track but is such an asset on the road, and if it comes down to a sprint could have a chance at gold, so she is willing to risk the short turnaround time (like Kopecky).

Annemiek Van Vleuten, Anna Kiesenhofer and Elisa Longo Borghini on the Olympic road race podium in Tokyo.
Annemiek Van Vleuten (Netherlands), Anna Kiesenhofer (Austria) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) on the Olympic road race podium in Tokyo.

The fourth rider for Italy is obvious: Elisa Longo Borghini, with the current form she is displaying both at the Giro and the Nationals, is a heavy favourite for gold. Never forget that she’s finished third in the last two Olympic road races …

Emma Johansson, Anna Van Der Breggen, and Elisa Longo Borghini on the Olympic road race podium in 2016.
Emma Johansson (Sweden), Anna Van Der Breggen (Netherlands) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) on the Olympic road race podium in 2016.

Once we get closer to the race I will dive deeper into the start list and the course, but it’s all very exciting and the Games are quickly approaching. The race may not be as “professional” as something like the Worlds or Europeans, but for some, it was the only women’s cycling event we could watch live on TV back before the WT races had live coverage. It was all we got to see. There are a lot of problems with the Olympics, least of all being the team sizes and general size of the peloton, but it’s a race that means a lot to a lot of people.

That being said, I want to share Sarah Roy’s statement from Instagram:

“I wasn’t selected to race in the Olympic Games. 

“My first non-Olympic selection (Tokyo) I didn’t have the strength to comment on my heartbreak but this time I want to shine a light on what it’s like for all those athletes that work just as hard with that dream in sight but never get to live it. Those athletes that are often forgotten. The athletes that are expected to be good sports in support of the selected, & smile through their grief without the reciprocated support. 

“Comments often come from the selected around the world stating that dreams do come true. Sadly, dreams also don’t come true. 

“In Jan 2021 my dream had been realised. I was told I had made it after being asked to try out for the team pursuit despite not touching a track bike in 7yrs. The plan was to bring me across from the road as an extra set of legs. I was overjoyed. However, the next day I received a phone call that they’d changed their mind & the decision was final. 

“I was national road champion in 2021 & continued a strong classics season but in May I got the call I wasn’t selected for the road team either. 

“It was an intensely confusing time. I’ve not been the same person or athlete since. 

“Now, I’m in the form of my life & have been competitive at times but have also had circumstances out of my control devastatingly impact my season. 

“This is (part of) my athletic story. There are so many more like it. I try to rationalise my journey & the path it’s taken. I never played it safe. I was always authentic, & true to myself. I gave it everything. I’m forever grateful to those friends, family, sponsors, fans, teams & teammates that have given me their support & energy over the years. It’s hard not to feel like a letdown. 

“I implore teams, DS’s, teammates, coaches & anybody in the presence of a non-selected athlete to empathise with the heavy hearts these people are continuing to show up with, & give them time. It’s not easy & we need your support too. 

“To those in a similar situation as me, you’re not alone! (No doubt you’re younger than me & can keep the dream alive for another 4 years 😂)”

Gracie, Loren and I have discussed this on the podcast before, the impact of being selected but also the impact of not being selected. There are a lot of emotions on all fronts, as there always are in sport and Roy’s statement is a powerful one.

Racing continues…

All week at the Giro d’Italia Women!

We’ve got five more stages to go if you’re reading this on Tuesday, and the first “mountain top” of the race on Wednesday. I already wrote a full stage-by-stage breakdown of the route if you missed it you can find it here. I also wrote a separate contender preview, although it may be outdated by tomorrow. Things move fast in stage racing! If you’re interested, you can find the contender piece here.

Wheel Talk Podcast

I am thrilled to bring you daily podcasts about the Giro after each stage, with a rotating cast of co-hosts including, of course, Loren Rowney who will join for the final three stages. I’ve also enlisted Heidi Franz, current professional for Lifeplus-Wahoo, the one and only Tilda Price, and the lovely and talented Rebecca Charlton. Each episode has audio diaries from inside the race, so you can experience the race from the rider’s perspective.

Find each episode on the Wheel Talk Podcast feeds everywhere podcasts are found!

Let’s Discuss

What it means for Elisa Longo Borghini to wear pink.

When you think of an Italian rider the one that probably comes to mind is Elisa Longo Borghini. Not only because she has been an Italian national champion for two years in a row, plus a few times in the past, but also because of how long she has been a fixture in the peloton. But despite her notoriety now, it’s taken years for Longo Borghini to be the Italian rider.

Longo Borghini first competed at the Giro in 2011 for Top Girls Fassa Bortolo, the team of this year’s Stage 2 solo breakaway rider Ana Vitória Magalhães. Longo Borghini ended up finishing 18th overall in 2011, over 28 minutes behind race winner Marianne Vos.

In the years after her Giro debut Longo Borghini rose through the ranks, with wins at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Emakumeen Bira, Strade Bianche, and bronze medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic road race, but it wasn’t until 2020 she would win a stage of the Giro. Two, technically.

At that point she was one year into a contract with Trek-Segafredo, and the American team won the opening team time trial. Longo Borghini was the first to cross the finish line so she was the first to pull on the pink jersey. She handed the lead over to Annemiek van Vleuten on the second stage.

Longo Borghini in pink during the second stage of the 2020 Giro.

Six days later Longo Borghini won her first Giro stage.

Now, by then she had already had success at the Giro. She finished second overall in 2017 behind Anna van der Breggen and ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten, but a stage win had eluded her. The day she won her first stage was a huge moment.

She finished the 2020 Giro in third overall. The win went to Van der Breggen, after Van Vleuten crashed in the finale of the seventh stage.

After 2020 Longo Borghini continued to grow as a rider. She took wins at Tour of Britain, the Vuelta España Femenina, Paris-Roubaix Femmes and the UAE Tour but she wouldn’t win another Giro stage until 2023.

The fourth stage was an exciting one, with a brilliant attack by Veronica Ewers, and Longo Borghini and Van Vleuten emerging as the top competitors on the day. Longo Borghini won the stage and moved into second overall, while Van Vleuten held onto the lead.

Van Vleuten leads Longo Borghini and Ewers ahead of the pelootn
Van Vleuten leads Longo Borghini and Ewers during the fourth stage of the Giro in 2023.

With Lidl-Trek’s next highest rider on GC, Gaia Realini, already almost two minutes down, Longo Borghini was the team’s leader, but she crashed during the fifth stage and was forced to leave the race.

All of these stats and the years of history Longo Borghini has with the Giro is why her win on Sunday was so emotional, not only for Longo Borghini, but also for her fans, her friends, her family and her team.

“I feel both emotional and proud, I am very happy to have been consistent throughout the year so far and I think whatever the outcome the start has been a nice one,” she said after the opening stage.

“I knew I could play my game [in the time trial]. It’s been a very good result.”

Longo Borghini pulls on the pink jersey after the second stage of the Giro
Longo Borghini pulls on the pink jersey after the second stage of the Giro.

Longo Borghini was quick to point out that the win was a team effort, from all of the Lidl-Trek staff and her personal team behind the scenes, but it was the first pink jersey Longo Borghini pulled on that she alone won and perhaps the first time she can defend it to the end.

“I’m so joyful at the moment, I will try to honour it and I will just enjoy it and race my heart out.”

Going into the third stage, Longo Borghini’s lead on the other GC hopefuls looks pretty good, but it’s her form that is the bigger indicator of what she could do at her home tour this year. Her recent, dominant win at the National Championships was a statement on her current form, but her season overall has been incredibly consistent.

In all her post-race press conferences, the Italian champion stayed true to her level head.

“The Giro is long, we have a plan, we want to go for GC, but it is possible to lose it,” she said on Sunday. “The second [placed rider] is not even a second behind me. Tomorrow is another day, and I will try to enjoy this Maglia Rosa to the fullest.”

But a win for Longo Borghini next Sunday would be one that would make the entire peloton happy, even whoever finishes second. She is a favourite for retired and current riders alike, and a Giro overall would be a career highlight for the rider who has now won three stages of the race in her 14-year career.

“[Monday] was special, there were many people in the peloton coming to me to congratulate me for my victory [Sunday] and for wearing pink and it was [an honour] for me. I was super happy today to be touring around Italy with the Maglia Rosa.”

Who can challenge her? I guess we will see.

A picture worth a couple of words

Baby Elisa on the overall podium with Marianne Vos and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot in 2014.

Longo Borghini, Vos and Ferrand Prevot raise their podium flowers in celebration.

Taylor Swift

Each night of the Eras Tour Taylor and her dancers, singers, and band play a long list of set songs from nearly all her “eras” (she’s completely left Debut out of the setlist; I don’t want to talk about it). But near the end of the show the stage empties so it’s only Taylor, a guitar, and a piano. “Welcome to the acoustic set!” (the crowd goes wild).

During the US and Asian legs of the Tour Taylor would play one “surprise” song on the piano and one on the guitar, songs that aren’t part of the setlist. She has an EXTENSIVE discography, and a lot of the songs not played nightly have big followings. It became a thing, tracking which songs she would play at which shows. Once a song was played it was off the list; she has so many songs she could do that. But when she went back on tour at the start of 2024 in Australia she announced (quietly, in passing) that it was a re-set for the surprise songs.

Then the Swift world imploded when she played a mashup at the first show in Melbourne.

Not only did this mean she would re-play songs at future shows, but there are also significant ties between songs Swifties have only speculated about until Swift, kind of, confirmed them. Take “Fifteen” and “You’re On You’re Own, Kid” performed on June 2nd in Lyon, France.

Non-Swift fans will not understand the significance of Taylor singing a mashup of “Mary’s Song,” “Everything Has Changed,” and “So High School” during her final night in Amsterdam. Diving (too deep) into Swift’s personal life, it was the one-year anniversary of when Travis Kelce walked into Arrowhead Stadium with a friendship bracelet and a dream. There’s a line in “Mary’s Song, “off her Debut album, that says “I’ll be 87; You’ll be 89/ I’ll still look at you like the stars that shine/ In the sky”… Kelce’s football number is 87, Swift was born in 1989 and has a hugely successful album by the same name.

Swift has never once performed “Mary’s Song” live. Not just at the Era’s Tour; like, ever. It’s one of those songs deep in fans’ hearts that will never be forgotten but is all but lost from the discography especially as the re-records pour out.

“Everything Has Changed” is a song about meeting someone, and in that moment your world shifts (it was my and Toms’ first dance at our wedding). And “So High School” is off Swift’s latest album and is, without question, a song for Travis.

So the combination sent Swift fans into a days-long tailspin. The whole Swiftie fanbase is borderline obsessed with “Tayvis”: Travis and Taylor. It’s the most public relationship Swift has ever had, and if you’ve seen a single photo or video of them together you’ll see why fans are so happy to see Taylor with someone who makes her smile the way Travis does. So the song combo, when she sang it, with Travis in the audience, was something special. Her public love letter, if you will.

And that might be the longest Taylor rant I’ve ever done on the newsletter, please don’t yell at me in the comments or unsubscribe. I’ll keep it short next time, promise.

Until next time!

Thank you for reading this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter, I will be back next week with more from the world of women’s cycling! In the meantime you can find me on the EC Discord or pulling my hair out over the Giro Fantasy comp.

What did you think of this story?