Elisa Longo Borghini rebuilds from ‘destroyed’ rider to win Tour of Flanders

Italian a possible for Paris-Roubaix after confidence-mending win in Oudenaarde

Clock19:39, Sunday 31st March 2024
Elisa Longo Borghini celebrates her second win at the Tour of Flanders

© Getty Images

Elisa Longo Borghini celebrates her second win at the Tour of Flanders

Given her form and results in the last few months, and the strength of her team around her, Elisa Longo Borghini’s victory in the Tour of Flanders on Sunday was far from a surprise. But go back a few more months and you’ll find a rider that was “destroyed”, and unsure if she could ever return to the top level.

After a difficult spring for both Elisa Longo Borghini and her Lidl-Trek team, the Italian faced even more setbacks in the second half of 2023, going from the high of a win at the Giro Donne to crashing out of that race, and subsequently suffering an infection that derailed the rest of her season.

She has already returned to winning ways in 2024, and recorded three podium finishes, but Flanders marked her first big one-day victory since 2022.

“Every victory is special for me, because nothing is for granted, neither in cycling nor in life,” a reflective Longo Borghini said after the race in Oudenaarde.

“So it’s a victory that I would like to dedicate to my trainer, Paolo Slongo, because he was rebuilding up a rider who has been completely destroyed from a season. He was the one having faith in me, he was always believing that I could come back and I could come back stronger.”

Read more: Tour of Flanders – Elisa Longo Borghini triumphs in the rain

Though for outsiders it may have felt like only a few months that Longo Borghini was waylaid for, she revealed the extent of the knock that her confidence took in that time as she tried to recover from illness, surgery and a subsequent lack of form.

“Sometimes I called him telling him ‘oh Paolo, I will never come back’ and he would say ‘no, don’t worry. I know what I’m busy with, and I know you’ll be fine. You’ll be strong, and maybe even stronger than you would expect.’,” she explained. “I’m pretty sure now he’s on the telly with the guys laughing a little bit, like ‘haha, I told you’.”

The race itself was far from easy for Longo Borghini or any of the riders involved, with the Italian suffering an untimely crash early on, but excelling on the Koppenberg which proved to be the undoing of several riders, making the feat of her achievement even more special.

“I feel overwhelmed," Longo Borghini said, a good hour after she had crossed the line in first. “It’s been such a race from the beginning. Unluckily, I had a puncture and a crash, because I had a puncture straight into a corner, so it was the unluckiest moment to puncture. But the whole team was really supportive all the time, both the riders and the staff in the car. I could come back, recover, and then they led me into the Koppenberg and there I made the main split of the day.”

Read more: Spring Classics 2024 – Essential guide to the races and riders

As well as her strength, Longo Borghini put her result down to the planning and tactics of the Lidl-Trek DS duo of Ina Teutenberg and Jeroen Blijlevens, whose race direction saw Lidl-Trek distance SD Worx-Protime and end up with two riders in the front of the race.

“We really had a plan, and the plan was mostly ending on the Koppenberg, because we thought ‘okay, from the Koppenberg on then we reshuffled, we see how it’s going’ and then Jeroen said ‘I will give you instruction on how to ride and how to do this’. So it was really good. Ina and Jeroen are working really well together, they planned it really well. They told me to attack so I did, quite a few times, but it was not working well, but I still felt very well, and then Shirin came back like a bomb.

“Then I was just so sure to win the sprint. I don’t know why, because I’m normally not a very quick rider, but in this scenario when the race is long and people are tired, what comes out is your efficiency. The freshness always wins and I felt still quite fresh.”

Read more: No regrets for Kasia Niewiadoma after gutsy second at Tour of Flanders

Though the Flanders win has probably not yet sunk in for Longo Borghini, there are more big races on the horizon, perhaps sooner than she expected. The Italian had planned to skip Paris-Roubaix, the race she won in 2022, to focus on the Classics, but with Lizzie Deignan breaking her arm in Flanders, the possibility of riding next Saturday – with a double on the line – is now very real.

“Well, that was not on my programme, but I’m first reserve, and Lizzie is out, so I think probably I’ll be riding on the 7th of April,” Longo Borghini said.

“It’s a luxury race to go to, but I will just talk to the team, debrief with the team, and just follow the team instruction and that’s it. I have no idea what I’m doing right now, I really have to talk to my team to understand what they want me to do. If they want to send me to Roubaix or not, if they want to do a recon or want to send me home. I have to reschedule everything.”

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