From sticky bottle to solo victory: The moments that led to Roubaix rout

Longo Borghini may have rode into the velodrome alone, but she says her team support was the reason she was there at all.

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Someone pinch Elisa Longo Borghini because she’s not dreaming. She really did just win Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift. Longo Borghini couldn’t have announced her return to form in more dramatic fashion than with an attack from over 32 kilometers out that ended in her riding into the Roubaix velodrome alone.

Although she was solo when she celebrated the momentous victory, the win was really a team effort from start to finish.

“Honestly, I wish I could bring all my teammates to the podium today, because it was really a very good team performance,” Longo Borghini said after the race. A lovey platitude, but also, in this case, absolutely true.

Trek-Segafredo started the race with a few potential favourites but the team was still second best on paper behind the strong SD Worx squad that has excelled in the harder Spring Classics like Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders. Not that the American team hadn’t already had an incredible spring, with three WorldTour wins thanks to their new signing Elisa Balsamo, but it would be a fight to keep the Paris-Roubaix cobble in the Trek-Segafredo family.

Longo Borghini herself wasn’t on many people’s radars for Saturday’s race. The Italian was arguably one of the best riders of 2021 but fell short in the opening months of the 2022 season due to illness.

“It’s been a very tough spring for me, I had a sinusitis for a month and I couldn’t really perform the way I wanted,” Longo Borghini said. “I knew I was worth more than what I was performing and it was a little bit frustrating.”

Round 1: Van Dijk at Hornaing

Immediately when the riders hit the first cobbled sector with over 82 km to go, it was clear that Trek-Segafredo wasn’t going to wait for the race to get interesting before they took control.

Ellen van Dijk, who admitted prior to the race that she wasn’t super confident about positioning at a race like Paris-Roubaix, successfully put herself at the front of the peloton going into both the Hornaing à Wandignies and Warlaing à Brillon cobbled sectors. The European champion proceeded to do what she does best, throwing all her power into her pedals and tearing the peloton apart.

The effort made the race less treacherous before the harder cobbled sectors to come. With dry and dusty roads it was hard to pick a safe line, something that was made obvious by the number of punctures before the peloton finally thinned later in the day.

After the race, Longo Borghini said the conditions had something to do with her winning move. “There was a lot of dust on the road and on the cobbles especially, and when there is dry weather riders are daring too much and there is much more chaos,” Longo Borghini said after the race. “This is why I tried to go alone because then I can choose my lines. It was different [from last year] but not any safer … It’s Roubaix.”

Trek-Segafredo was very much in control until they weren’t. Unfortunately, Van Dijk herself suffered a front wheel puncture on the third cobbled sector at almost the same moment that Chloe Hosking crashed, leaving just Lucinda Brand, Balsamo, and Longo Borghini in the main peloton.

Round 2: Brand on patrol

Without Van Dijk setting a blistering pace over the cobbles, the door opened for SW Worx’ Lotte Kopecky to attack. Kopecky took another pre-race favourite, Marta Bastianelli, with her, but Brand was quick to react. The cyclocross star made sure Trek-Segafredo was represented in a move with two of the strongest riders in the peloton, and it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if the three had been able to stay away to the end.

The chase was left up to Movistar and Canyon-SRAM but Trek-Segafredo was never far from the front, biding their time, waiting for the three out front to come back. By that time Van Dijk was back in the front chasing group, along with Longo Borghini and Audrey Cordon Ragot. Having Brand up front meant that all three could conserve energy.

The American team did lose their star signing Balsamo after the world champion suffered a puncture and in the heat of chasing made some calls that ended in disqualification.

Near the end of the Templeuve (L’Épinette) sector the three escapees were caught, but before they’d even rejoined the peloton Longo Borghini was already on the attack. Kopecky admitted after the race that she called off the move because Brand wasn’t committed enough to keep it going.

Round 3: Attack on Templeuve

With barely any road before the Templeuve (Moulin-de-Vertain) cobbled sector, Longo Borghini was able to get a bit of a gap over SD Worx’s Chantal van den Broek-Blaak right away.

According to Longo Borghini, the attack was pure instinct. “I saw the breakaway was caught and I thought it was a good move to be on the front and put Lucinda in the best position to just follow wheels and make SD Worx chase me,” said Longo Borghini.

Round 4: Disruption

The teamwork didn’t stop with Longo Borghini off the front. Both Van Dijk and Brand stayed active in the chasing group behind, making sure to roll to the front on some of the remaining cobbled sectors and slow down SD Worx’s attempt to chase. It was classic disruption tactics, reducing the chasing group’s ability to hit a rhythm.

Longo Borghini’s advantage was finally solidified in the final couple of kilometres, and after the Italian had already raised her arms in victory, Van Dijk took to the front of the chase to lead Brand to third on the day.

“What can I say, we were riding perfectly,” Cordon Ragot said at the finish. “We had bad luck this year, we had some punctures and we just stayed calm.”

“We made them so tired they couldn’t just hang on with Elisa when she went. In Roubaix, you have to race as a team and I think that is what we did. Like last year. We know how important the team is, we know we like each other and we want to see each other on the top step of the podium and today again we have two on the podium and it’s just amazing.”

For Longo Borghini, it wasn’t just the team effort on the day that led her to victory, but the support from her team throughout the disappointing Spring.

“I have to thank my team because they still have faith in me, even though I didn’t perform the way I was supposed to,” Longo Borghini said. “They brought me to this race and I was like ‘I don’t think I’m ready, I really don’t want to do it’. They kept saying ‘you are ready, you are more than ready, you are capable of doing this’.”

Despite the team being short on riders, Longo Borghini still sat out the Amstel Gold Race and Brabantse Pijl, two races that have her name written all over them. She wasn’t even supposed to race Paris-Roubaix, but the team needed her, and she delivered. “With sinusitis you can’t breathe, I had to do a step back to do two forward,” Longo Borghini said.

“I’m a very stubborn person and since my spring wasn’t ideal I was a little bit angry,” Longo Borghini said about her finishing salute. “We say in Italian that I am a little bit wood-headed, because my head is really tough, but it was my tough head that brought me here.

“In the end, it’s not only that. It’s the amazing work of my teammates, the amazing work of the staff that is not always in the highlights and the good morale that my family gives me, especially my boyfriend.”

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