MVP award at Gent-Wevelgem goes to Ellen van Dijk

The European champion spent much of the latter parts of the race chasing down relentless attacks from SD Worx.

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World champion Elisa Balsamo may have been the first rider to cross the line in Wevelgem, but Ellen van Dijk was a driving force behind her Trek-Segafredo teammate’s victory.

“I am very happy,” Balsamo said after the race. “It was a very hard race, and in the last kilometre, there were a lot of attacks. My team was perfect, they closed every attack.”

“Ellen, Elisa, and Shirin were so so strong.”

The first sight of Van Dijk leading the peloton was just before the final three climbs of the day when a six-woman break that included Marlen Reusser, Kasia Niewiadoma, and Coryn Labecki threatened to slip away. Van Dijk, with Balsamo close on her wheel, effortlessly closed the gap to the dangerous escapees with 44 km remaining in the race. At this point, Trek-Segafredo hadn’t made the final call to sprint for Balsamo, according to the Italian’s post-race interview.

“We decided to go for the sprint after the last Kemmelberg and they did a great job,” Balsamo said.

After losing out on a result in Trofeo Alfredo Binda, SD Worx wasn’t about to sit around for a sprint. The Dutch team that has been so dominant in the past doesn’t have a pure sprinter for the fast finishes. They do have Lotte Kopecky, but the Belgian national champion can’t contend with the likes of Balsamo and Team DSM’s Lorena Wiebes. As such, when a large peloton rolled into the final 20 km, SD Worx took it upon themselves to make the race aggressive.

Reusser, Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak, and Elena Cecchini tried attack after attack but nothing worked. Every time, Van Dijk was there to hold the race together, with the help of Shirin van Anrooij and Elisa Longo Borghini. The only time the race looked like it would fracture was with 11 km to go when Niewiadoma took a flyer. The Polish rider was followed by a handful of other riders and eventually a group of around 12, including Van Dijk, had a gap on the peloton.

Van Dijk did her best to slow down the group. She hovered near the front, slowing down the effort and trying to demotivate the riders who clearly didn’t want to ride to the finish with her teammate. When her efforts in the breakaway weren’t working, Van Dijk dropped back and dragged the peloton to the front of the race. Within a few hundred meters, the hopes of those who had managed a brief moment off the front were over.

Once it was clear the race would be for the sprinters, Van Dijk had some help from other teams at the front of the peloton, and just in time. By the final kilometer, she’d done an incredible amount of work to make sure Balsamo had a clear shot to the win.

Balsamo put herself in the perfect position on the finishing straight and delivered another victory for her team, and so she stood on top of the podium, but Van Dijk was very deserving of the shoutout she received for her efforts throughout the race.

Now the teams turn their attention to one of the biggest races of the year, the Tour of Flanders. With three massive victories in eight days Balsamo has marked herself a favorite for De Ronde van Vlaanderen, but the world champion hasn’t started thinking about that just yet.

“[Flanders] is a very hard race, but now I have one week to rest, and I really need some rest,” Balsamo said.

Trek-Segafredo must be pinching themselves on Sunday after Balsmo won a third WorldTour one-day race for the American team. Earlier in the season their star rider Lizzie Deignan announced she was pregnant and would miss the 2022 season. The team’s other top contender, Elisa Longo Borghini, hasn’t had quite the form she showed in 2021. But with victories at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne, and now Gent-Wevelgem, all in the same week, Elisa Balsamo and teammates like Van Dijk are picking up all the slack.

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