Anatomy of a sprint: the Wiebes vs Balsamo rivalry is on

The two went head-to-head once again at Exterioo Brugge-De Panne, with Balsamo on top for the second win in four days.

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A rivalry is brewing. In one corner, Lorena Wiebes, 23 years old and the best sprinter of the 2022 season thus far. In the other, Elisa Balsamo, 24, the reigning world champion, comfortable improvising, capable of getting over climbs, and fast enough to finish the job.

The two went head-to-head once again at Exterioo Brugge-De Panne, with Balsamo on top for the second win in four days.

“You have to take some risks in the sprints and this time Elisa was better,” Wiebes said after the race.

A crash in the final kilometre meant that the top riders went into the final sprint of lead-outs. In fact, Balsamo wasn’t even supposed to be sprinting for the win but her team leader, Chloe Hosking, was caught up in the crash and the world champion was forced to improvise.

Only nine riders were left in the final sprint after the crash, with the Belgian national champion leading out her teammate Lonneke Uneken. Balsamo picked the perfect wheel, just behind Kopecky, with Wiebes just behind the world champion.

The win was Balsamo’s third of the season, tied with Wiebes’ three sprint victories.

After the race, the other podium finishers Wiebes and Marta Bastianelli commented on how the crash impacted the finale.

“It was a really chaotic sprint,” Wiebes said. “In the crash in the last corner, I lost Charlotte so that was sad because normally she’s my last lead-out. So I was a bit too early in the wind, but it is what it is.”

Perhaps not used to leading out a sprint, Kopecky could have closed the door on Balsamo and Wiebes before they started their sprint. Just as the Belgian rider started to slow, she drifted from the lefthand side of the road towards the middle, opening up a gap for Balsamo. Uneken came around Kopecky’s other side but was too far back to make up the distance on Balsamo and Wiebes.

It could have ended very differently, and Balsamo got lucky Kopecky didn’t know which side her teammate was going to come around, which was obvious when she looked over her left shoulder as Uneken tried to pick up speed on her right. Wiebes, who has been incredible in sprints this season, jumped at the same time as Balsamo but was just a little too far behind.

Behind the two, Bastianelli and Uneken battled it out for third, with Bastianelli coming out on top.

“I am a little sorry because there was a crash from my teammate in the corner and there was a little gap I had to close to sprint, I did the maximum I think in another situation I could have tried to win,” Bastianelli said. “It was very difficult because it’s dangerous. There are too many corners, big and small roads, and to get in the front for the final I know it’s impossible.”

Balsamo, who was left solo to navigate the final, said after the race she was missing her teammates and just had to find the best position among the remaining riders.

“It’s totally a surprise because I was working for Chloe Hosking but in the last km she told me there was a crash and I would have to sprint, so it’s a big surprise but I’m very happy,” Balsamo said at the finish. “There were a lot of crashes in the last kilometre so the team was missing a lot of riders. I had to try to find the best position.”

Well, she did find the best position, just behind Kopecky was the spot to be and Balsamo delivered a race-winning sprint for Trek-Segafredo once again.

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