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On the final day of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta Elisa Balsamo sprinted to victory. The win in Madrid, Balsamo’s ninth sprint victory this season, was also her final road race in the world champion jersey.
It’s been one heck of a year for the young Italian. Her first year on a WorldTour team and dare I say her best season yet. The curse of the rainbow jersey means nothing to Elisa Balsamo.
Balsamo started her career with Trek-Segafredo on a high when she won the opening stage of Setmana Valenciana in February. It was the start of a relationship that flourished throughout the year. The American team recognized what a weapon they had within their squad, and when the time came they threw their whole team behind the world champion.
Balsamo took her first WorldTour victory for the American team at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. The team’s tactics were at first confusing, but it quickly became apparent that the defending champion Elisa Longo Borghini was working for her young countrywoman.
Even after they started the leadout too early, Balsamo found her way to the line first ahead of Sofia Bertizzolo (UAE Team ADQ) and Soraya Paladin (Canyon-SRAM).
The win was a big deal for Balsamo. A WorldTour victory on home soil always is.
A week later the team was racing in Belgium at the Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne. This time Balsamo wasn’t the team leader. Instead she was tasked with leading out Chloe Hosking. However, a late crash in the hectic finale left Balsamo to shoot her shot. She won her second WorldTour one-day in a row, ahead of the best sprinter in the world Lorena Wiebes (DSM).
Another week passed and next up was Gent-Wevelgem, arguably more important than the two races before it. Balsamo probably wasn’t going to win three WorldTour one-days in a row, was she?
Yes. Yes she was.
Balsamo’s incredible spring ended on a bitter note when she was disqualified from Paris-Roubaix for a sticky bottle, but she picked up where she left off on stage 2 of the Giro Donne when she outsprinted Marianne Vos and found herself in pink.
One stage victory wasn’t enough for the young Italian, so she went ahead and won stage 5 as well.
People talk about the curse of the rainbow bands. There’s a lot of pressure to perform when you’re wearing the most coveted jersey in the world, but for Elisa Balsamo the curse meant nothing.
She wasn’t supposed to win the World Championships in Belgium in 2021, but one year after that victory it’s hard to see anyone else doing the jersey justice. Balsamo has truly taken 2022 and made it her year, and to cap it off with a win on the final stage of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta is the chocolate powder dusting on top of the tiramisu.
Unfortunately for Balsamo, in the rainbow jersey or not, she will never be able to fly under the radar again. But would it be the worst thing to see her keep the jersey for another season?
No. No it would not.