Elisa Longo Borghini bends the cobbles to her will

‘Wood-head’ Longo Borghini enters history at race she wasn’t meant to start

"It’s like going through Dante's Hell and then being in the paradise".

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The gap to the chasers behind ebbed and flowed, Elisa Longo Borghini flew into the corner of a cobbled sector, holding on to her bike for dear life and keeping it upright. Never, throughout any of this, did she doubt if she was going to make it into the velodrome alone and win the second-ever women’s Paris-Roubaix.

“If you don’t believe in your attack you never win,” the Italian champion responded, without a flicker of hesitation, as to when she knew she had won.

That winning attack was “pure instinct” at a race Elisa Longo Borghini wasn’t even supposed to be riding. Illness held her spring back, at some points “not able to breathe” due to sinusitis as her early 2022 season disintegrated. “I had to do a step back to do two forwards.” She skipped Amstel Gold and Brabantse Pijl as she took antibiotics to get healthy.

“I wasn’t supposed to come to this race, the team made me come here and I had no pressure at all,” the Italian revealed.

“In the end I felt really good, because I did everything good this winter, and this spring I was just sick the entire time. I couldn’t perform the way I was supposed to. As soon as I got healthy I performed well.”

After the race, all of the hardship washes away. As she leaves the velodrome a steward starting to clear up stops her for a selfie. Before the press conference, she’s now relaxed, laughing as she talks to loved ones on the phone.

“It’s like going through Dante’s Hell and then being in paradise,” is how Longo Borghini describes the transition from the cobbles to the sanctity of the velodrome.

“Last year I probably crashed four or five times, and this year I learned that you always need to keep pedalling. I’m very much looking forward to hearing a good joke from the men’s team about this because last year they were joking about my cadence, which was very low on the sectors, and this year they will probably joke about that corner, but I’ll take it in a good way, I like it.”

As she crossed the line, maybe already bracing for the jokes, Longo Borghini rapped her knuckles on her helmet. When it’s brought up in the press conference, she laughs.

“I’m a very stubborn person,” she explains. “And since my spring wasn’t ideal I was a little bit angry. We say in Italian I am a little bit of a wood-head, because my head is really tough. That’s my tough head that brought me here.”

Mentally, Longo Borghini is already out ahead again, thinking of the races to come. Specifically, the Tour de France. And while the women’s Paris-Roubaix begins writing its history, she refuses to forget the women’s history that already exists at the French Grand Tour.

“I’m really looking forward to the upcoming races, especially the Tour de France. I always try to say that Tour de France is returning, we don’t have to forget history. It’s back because there have been many women riding in the past, and we are thankful to them because they made history.”

But for now, there is this moment.

“I still don’t really believe it actually. You’re riding in this velodrome where the history of cycling has been made, and in the end, I’m just Elisa.”

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