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The Dutch rider made a late surge in the sprint finale but didn’t have enough road — or speed — to reel in the in-form Italian and had to settle for second.
After the finish, Vos pondered on whether she could have done anything differently, but had to accept that Balsamo was just too fast.
“When you’re so close, you think, gosh, it might have been there, but Gent-Wevelgem is really not an easy sprint, good timing is very difficult here,” Vos said. “Last year I went quite early, then I was able to keep it. This year I came out of the bunch and was a little boxed in, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing either. I couldn’t do anything against Balsamo’s speed.”
Vos already knows what it is like to be beaten by Balsamo after she finished second to her at the world championships in Flanders last season. A three-time road race world champion herself, Vos knows the pressure of wearing the most recognizable jersey in cycling.
Despite being beaten by her for a second time, Vos heaped praise on the reigning world champion.
“She’s just in really good shape and it’s really cool that she’s doing this. Last year she won the world championships, but then it is not obvious to be there the following year. That’s nice to see,” she said.
Vos was returning to racing at Gent-Wevelgem after being forced to skip the Trofeo Alfredo Binda — a race she’s won four times — due to illness. It was only her second race on the road this season after taking an elongated break following her record eighth world cyclocross title at the end of January.
“I had a slight cold. It was not wise to go to Italy to do the race. Instead, I just decided to recover well for these races, so I am pretty happy to be fit and racing again,” Vos said.
“It was a very difficult race. Constantly positioning for the hills and reacting to attacks. The team did very well, so I could continue to focus on the sprint. I was curious about my form after I only rode the Strade Bianche, so this is a great result. I’m looking forward to the coming weeks.”
The longest ever
Vos won Gent-Wevelgem for the first time last season, but the course saw some big changes to it since then. At 159 kilometers, it was the longest ever edition of the race and with all of the extra riding placed before the key climbs.
The race was also routed up the Ossuaire side of the Kemmelberg, the longest and toughest side of the climb with gradients above 20 percent. While it still ended with a bunch sprint, Vos believes that the changes had an impact.
“It was interesting, of course, the hilly zone is always somewhere, now it was 95 kilometers after it started and you have already covered a little bit,” she said. “At De Moeren, we expected a little bit more from the echelons but the wind was probably not enough from the side, not strong enough. It was good. The Kemmelberg from that side is steep, it gets in the legs.
“I think especially for the final, the length makes a difference. We still went with a group into the finish but it’s not a sprint from an easy race so it’s a very difficult race.”
Jumbo-Visma was not relying on the race ending in a bunch sprint and was very active in the finale with Anna Henderson, Coryn Labecki, and Riejanne Markus all taking their turn to follow attacks while Vos kept her powder dry in the pack.
It meant that Trek-Segafredo had to do a large amount of the chase work to maintain control of the bunch, though Jumbo-Visma did pitch in when Grace Brown launched a dangerous move in the closing kilometers.
“We tried to go into the breaks and cover everything because you know it’s always difficult to stay in control,” Vos said. “I think the team did really well today, so we are definitely ready for next week and we want to go for it again.
“In hindsight, it’s always easy to do things differently, but this is a difficult sprint. You come in with a long stretch so to time it right is very difficult. Of course, Elisa is very fast and if you make one mistake, and maybe I didn’t really make a mistake, then she is just faster. I caught up a little, but I couldn’t make the speed to pass her.”