Hometown favourite Elisa Longo Borghini wins Women’s WorldTour opener at Strade Bianche

by Jeanine Laudy


Italian rider Elisa Longho Borghini (Wiggle-High5) became a hometown hero today when she won the Women’s WorldTour opener at the Strade Bianche ahead of Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) and Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans).

How it went down

With the predictions calling for heavy rain and wind, cycling fans across the world looked forward to Tuscany’s gravel road race turning into something epic. Not that an heroic race like Strade Bianche needs exceptional weather to be epic, as last two editions proved. This year’s Strade Bianche once again formed the first event in the Women’s WorldTour, so the excitement among both riders and cycling fans all over the world was huge.

Boels-Dolmans lined up in Siena with the only two former winners of this race, Lizzie Deignan and Megan Guarnier. Last weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) took the start as well, along with a strong team to support her and Leah Kirchmann.

Other favourites included home rider and ambassador for this race Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5), Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott), as well as Marianne Vos and Kasia Niewiadoma of WM3 Pro Cycling. There was also the return to road racing of Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, after a disastrous Olympics, lining up in the colours of her new team Canyon-SRAM. We couldn’t wait to see this race unfold and find out who’d take the first Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey.

Two former world road champions, Marianne Vos (WM3 Pro Cycling) and Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) ride side by side on one of the gravel sections in the 2017 Strade Bianche.

We saw almost all of these names at the front of the race in the final, with a seven-rider group battling it out for the win. On the final climb towards the Piazza del Campo, it was eventually home rider Longo Borghini who got the best of her rivals, taking an emotional win after 3 hours and 44 minutes of racing.

Nothing much happened for the first part of the race, which was partly due to crashes of a number of favourites, including Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini. Vos was also seen on photos with blood on her knee. Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Wiggle-High5) immediately gave her bike to team leader Longo Borghini when she crashed, which proved to be a race-winning move eventually.

With the peloton anxiously waiting to see what the rest of the race would bring, all favourites were able to return to the peloton at some point during the race – but it took some more effort than others. Light showers at the start in Siena had turned into a proper down-pour of rain throughout the race, making the circumstances every bit as tough as was expected.

About halfway through the race, Floortje Mackaij (Team Sunweb), Lauren Stephens (Team Tibco-SVB) and Lara Vieceli (Astana Women’s Team) got into the break of the day, but it took until the last 20 kilometers of the race for it to really break open.

Five favourites escaped the peloton at this point: Orica-Scott’s Van Vleuten and Australian champion Katrin Garfoot, Deignan, Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini.

Top 5 for Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) in a rainy Strade Bianche.

Garfoot got dropped several times from this group of leaders, but always seemed to eventually fight her way back. But even though she returned, Orica-Scott wasn’t able to play out their advantage in numbers.

Sneaking up on the lead group in the final kilometers of the race, Shara Gillow (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine- Futuroscope) and Brand were able to reach the front group. As soon as the duo had reached the leaders, they attacked again and left the five-rider group behind – slightly flabbergasted.

Teammates last year, but both having joined different teams in 2017, Brand and Gillow started the very steep climb into Siena side by side and it looked like a two-up fight to the finish line. Though, Strade Bianche wouldn’t be such a highly anticipated race if it didn’t deliver an exciting finale. Three of the former five leaders returned to the front at 500 meters to go, Brand and Gillow having peaked just a little bit too early.

Longo Borghini and Niewiadoma fought their way to the finish line together, not unlike the fight between Niewiadoma and Deignan in the finale of the 2016 race. Niewiadoma had to settle for second once again, as Longo Borghini had a magnificent win in her home country. After her Tour of Flanders victory in 2015, this is Longo Borghini’s second biggest career victory.

Last year’s winner Deignan rounded out the podium, with Brand finishing fourth, ahead of Van Vleuten and Gillow.

2017 Strade Bianche resulted in another second place finish for Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling).

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Longo Borghini wasn’t just crowned as the winner of Strade Bianche, but also got to put on the first leader’s jersey of the 2017 Women’s WorldTour – which is scarlet this year as opposed to last year’s white jersey.

Watch the Wiggle-High5 video of before, during and after the race, with Claudia Lichtenberg explaining how impressive the effort of Longo Borghini actually was, after having crashed at the worst possible moment in the race.

“The team just rode amazingly, and this victory is for my team, because today the girls and the staff worked so well. For me this is such a prestigious victory, and I think I will remember this for all my life!”, Longo Borghini added on the team website.

After the race, it turned that Niewiadoma is no longer in the young rider classification, so it was top 10 finisher Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) that received the light blue jersey for the leader in the youngster classification. We had predicted she would be making her mark in 2017 and is already doing that in the first Women’s WorldTour race of the year.

The first two leaders in the 2017 Women’s WorldTour: Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) wearing the young rider jersey and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) in the scarlet leader’s jersey.

After the race, WM3 Pro Cycling DS Jeroen Blijlevens commented on Niewiadoma’s second place finish: “Niewiadoma crashed in gravel section 5. She had to get back to the front, riding from group to group. Lauren Kitchen supported her with that, but it’s very good she finished second in this race after the amount of bad luck she had.” 

Deignan mentioned a “positional problem” that cost her the race, which is a polite way of saying that a motorbike was in her way when Niewiadoma was the first to go from the lead group.

But after Boels-Dolmans had to start without Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen due to illness and Megan Guarnier had to stop throughout the race, because she suffered from the crash she had in last weekend’s Omloop van het Hageland, Deignan is pleased to have finished on the podium for the team.

“I couldn’t have expected a podium,” Deignan said on the Boels-Dolmans website. “I was coming here to work for the team, but we had so much bad luck that it ended up being me that needed to do the work. I’m not in top shape yet, nowhere near, so I’m delighted, really pleased. I didn’t expect to be in the breakaway and contribute to it. I thought if I made a breakaway, I’d be surviving it. I’m really pleased with my form.”

Women’s WorldTour standings after Strade Bianche

General classification
1. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) – 120
2. Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) – 100
3. Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) – 85

Young rider classification
1. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) – 6
2. Sofie Begin (Astana Women’s Team) – 4
3. Floortje Mackaij (Team Sunweb) – 2

Team classification
1. Wiggle-High5 – 140
2. Orica-Scott – 135
3. WM3 Pro Cycling – 108

***

The Women’s WorldTour continues next week in the Ronde van Drenthe.

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