‘I have to be brave and attack’: A chat with solo expert Elisa Longo Borghini
When Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) wins a race, it’s always spectacular. The cold and rainy Trofeo Binda when she was only 21 years young, the long solo in the 2015 Tour of Flanders, Strade Bianchi in 2017 on Audrey Cordon-Ragot’s bike after an early crash …
There was another long solo when she became Italian champion in 2017, and on the final stage of last year’s Emakumeen Bira where she also took home the overall thanks to bonus seconds.
“I don’t win a lot of races but when I do it’s really emotional,” Longo Borghini tells me. “I am not a great sprinter so I have to be brave and attack. Sometimes being brave pays off. My mother was at the finish line in Bira and I had to win the flowers for her.”
Longo Borghini comes from a cycling family. Her older brother Paolo raced with teams like Liquigas and Barloworld before ending his career in 2014.
“I started racing because of him,” she says. “He is 11 years older and I went along to his races when I was little. Then we both were pro cyclists. I remember that we both raced the Tour of Flanders in 2014. I waited for his race to finish after just missing out on the podium myself. It’s nice to chat with someone you love about something you both love so much.
“Our parents are very athletic too and there was always sports in our house. They are very proud of us. Now they come and watch me as often as they can.”
There is a lot of racing still to come for the women’s peloton in 2020 but the month of August brought some top-notch excitement. Longo Borghini was vital in the wins of her Trek-Segafredo teammate Lizzie Deignan in both the GP Plouay and La Course. She held off the chasing group in Plouay, and launched an early sprint in La Course forcing Marianne Vos to sprint early — a move that allowed Deignan to beat the Dutch rider on the line.
“I had so many reactions to these races and that’s how you see that women’s cycling is more and more popular,” she explains. “For me it’s normal to be a teammate when others have more chances of winning the race. It also works the other way around. When I attacked in the final stage of the Bira in 2019 the girls behind me had my back.
“We raced for the stage and the overall win. I kept looking over my shoulder because it was still a while to the finish line but Giorgia (Bronzini, sports director) kept yelling: ‘don’t look back, we got this!’ When Lizzie won La Course, it feels like I won La Course too, even though I was sixth.”
Longo Borghini hails the great team environment she experiences at Trek-Segafredo. The Women’s WorldTour team also has a men’s team and the two integrate training camps, staff, and social media accounts.
“It’s not just something we do for the look of it in the media — it does feel like we are one team,” she explains. “As a women’s team we are really close to each other and with all of the staff. On training camps, we train along with the men. Of course, I have to be honest and say that they are faster and stronger but you can already learn so much by just observing what food Vincenzo Nibali takes along and how he looks at his bike.
“The staff are also working for both teams and we share hotels when we have the classics or other races together. You see from the outside that we are one team. That is also how it feels for me.”
Longo Borghini is on her way to the Giro Rosa which starts on Friday with a team time trial in Grosetto, Tuscany. It will be the Italian’s ninth time at the race. In 2017 she did it as national champion; an extra special moment for an Italian rider. She finished in second place behind Anna van der Breggen — her best result in the race so far.
“That was a special year because I had just won the two national titles, the road race and the time trial,” she recalls. “This year I am not going to say beforehand that I am going to win. I keep my two feet on the ground at all times. There are many strong riders in the peloton that I respect.
“It’s an open race but even without the big famous climbs it’s still going to be hard. You have to be focused every day and there is not a flat stage to really relax. It’s going to be nervous every day but I will do my best as I always do. We have a strong team for the team time trial but other teams are strong too.
“I am not a person to show off before the race. In the end the results say enough and the legs do the talking. I am looking forward to this race. It’s great that we get to race the Giro Rosa after such a hard time in Italy with the COVID-19 crisis.”
Longo Borghini started her career with Top Girls Fassa Bortolo in 2011 but has raced for non-Italian teams ever since: Hitec Products, Wiggle-High5 and, since 2019, Trek-Segafredo. She speaks fluent English after racing abroad for such a long time. In the nine years since she joined the pro peloton a lot has changed in women’s cycling.
“I like how we do the races alongside the men’s events,” she says. “They generate so much media attention for the women’s races. Paris-Roubaix is now a new race for us. I will for sure not be the team leader there because it’s more suited to Ellen van Dijk. I am looking forward to it though. My brother Paolo didn’t give me advice just yet. He just said: ‘good luck’.
“Next to the women’s races alongside the men’s I think it’s important we have separate races. The Women’s Tour in the United Kingdom is a stand-alone race for us and the organization is super professional. A balance between the two types is the best solution, I think.”
In 2016 Longo Borghini stood on the podium at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. After a tumultuous road race she sprinted to third place behind Anna van der Breggen and Emma Johansson. She looks back on the experience with fondness.
“The Olympics are really something else in my country and around the world,” she says. “I used to look at Olympians as supermen and -women. When I entered the Olympic village in Brazil I felt like a little fish in a huge aquarium. There were so many people, so many cultures from around the world. Then I was on that podium and I am not a superwoman.
“It shows that by working hard you can get there too. I hope to do another two Olympics in my career. Olympic medals and the rainbow jersey are a dream.”
This year the World Championships are in Longo Borghini’s own Italy. She’s won quite a few races by attacking on the final climb and keeping a lead on the descent to win solo. The course in Imola suits her to a tee.
“I haven’t been there yet but I know the region,” she says. “Our national coach Edoardo Salvoldi visited the course already and says it’s something for the Classics riders. Martigny [Switzerland, where Worlds were supposed to be held – ed.] was for the pure climbers but Imola offers chances to more riders.
“The maglia azzurra of the national team always give something extra in Italy. I am not a sprinter. When there is a sprint of 10, I get seventh or eighth. I have to be brave and attack. The level in the women’s peloton is now so high so getting away is really hard but I have to try.”