World Champion Elisa Balsamo (ITA/Trek - Segafredo) wins the 2022 Gent-Wevelgem race in a bunch sprint. In Flanders Fields WE 2022 (1.WWT) One day women’s race from Ieper to Wevelgem (BEL/159km) ©kramon

To anyone hoping to drop Balsamo, Van Dijk says ‘good luck with that’

World Champion Elisa Balsamo has been unbeatable in recent races, can she continue her winning streak?

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After her hat-trick of wins in the previous three rounds of the Women’s WorldTour, world champion Elisa Balsamo has announced herself as a nailed-on favourite for the win in Flanders. At each of those races the 21-year-old Italian, who won her rainbow stripes on similar terrain last year, has had the backing of one of the strongest teams in the women’s peloton in Trek-Segafredo.

Speaking at a virtual press conference on Friday, Balsamo somewhat played down her role for Sunday:

“Of course it’s a big goal, I think it’s a big goal for everyone in the peloton but we are a strong team and we have different options so I don’t feel the pressure on myself, but I also know that some of my teammates are super strong and they can do a great race. Of course, I try my best but also Elisa [Longo Borghini] or Ellen [van Dijk], or some of our teammates can do a good race,” Balsamo said.

Former winner, Longo Borghini, however was unequivocal about her chances: “Flanders is is always a special race and race you always wish to win, but I don’t think I’m honestly the one that will win on Sunday to be fair.”

Armed with an extremely fast finish, Balsamo will be hoping to get over the climbs in better shape than her fellow sprinters to pull off the win on Sunday. She and the other fast women will have an additional obstacle to scale this year in the form of the Koppenberg.

“Of course, it’s a hard race. And I think it’s also going to be very cold and maybe wet and so the race is going to be harder,” she said. “I also think that a lot of teams really want to make the race full gas. Because they don’t want a sprint. But of course, I’m going to fight and try to survive on the last hills. And we have, as we said before, we have also different riders that can make the race. And so I don’t feel a lot of pressure about that, but I only try to do my best.”

Although she is a new addition to Trek-Segafredo, Balsamo appears to have slotted perfectly into the dynamic that makes the team so formidable.

“There is good communication between us during the races. And that’s an important thing,” she said. “And yes, I think that for me, is is an honour that such a super big champion, like Elisa or Ellen, are working for me so hard. And so I think that that’s cycling, and this is a team, and cycling is a team sport. And in the last races we showed this.”

Her teammates echoed the sentiment with Longo Borghini praising Balsamo’s precision in sprint finishes: “Personally, it’s really nice to be in a team with Elisa, because she’s always so focused on you know, that if you basically drop her at 170 metres to go, she wins the race or the worst case scenario, she is third.”

“We are all super professional riders and we have published work best for each other,” added Van Dijk. “And even though I don’t know Elisa Balsamo that long… it’s just easy to work with each other. I think we all know what what we expect from each other. We all know what to do in the right moment.”

The Dutch rider, who is world time trial champion, played a crucial role in Gent-Wevelgem ensuring that the peloton stayed intact in order for Balsamo to sprint. SD Worx have been vocal about their intention to try to drop Balsamo on Sunday but, scoffs Van Dijk: “I know they are hoping to get rid of Balsamo, but I know how strong she is so good luck with that.”

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