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Elisa Longo Borghini has never been known as much of a sprinter. The Italian national champion is one of the women’s peloton’s best riders and has taken victories at some of the most prestigious races. Her sprint, however, has been widely regarded as somewhat lacking.
The 30-year-old even jokes about it herself, tweeting earlier this week after she lost out to Grace Brown and Kasia Niewiadoma in a three-up sprint on stage four that she might need to keep up the town sign sprints against her boyfriend – fellow Trek-Segafredo rider Jacopo Mosca.
After her win on the previous day’s summit finish on Black Mountain, Longo Borghini found herself tied on time with race leader Grace Brown, who had hung on for third on the stage. A degree in advanced mathematics appeared to be needed to fathom exactly what separated Brown and Longo Borghini (the answer: average stage placings) but regardless, the onus was on the Trek-Segafredo rider to turn her second place into first on the final stage.
Things weren’t looking good for Longo Borghini and Trek after the first intermediate sprint on stage six when Brown took the sprint and the four bonus seconds after a leadout by stage one winner Clara Copponi. Niewiadoma took second place and two bonus seconds putting her on the same time as Longo Borghini who could not come around her teammate Audrey Cordon Ragot who was leading her out.
After a three-rider breakaway – the only sustained move of the day – consisting of Anne Iversen of Team Coop – Hitec Products, Mieke Kroger of Human Powered Health and Alessia Patuelli of UAE Team ADQ mopped up the second lot of points, Longo Borghini’s only hope was to beat Brown and take the bonus seconds available to the top three at the finish.
Unfortunately – or so it seemed – for Longo Borghini and her lack of fast-twitch fibres, the key to dethroning her FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope rival was through sprinting.
The odds seemed to be stacked against Longo Borghini, who at this point had lost two sprints to Brown. The stage win was set to be contested by the fastest legs in the bunch in the form of Lorena Wiebes and Brown’s teammate, Clara Copponi, so it looked like an impossible task for someone who ‘can’t sprint’.
But was it all a bluff?
Lead-outs started to get organised with 4km to go in the run-in to Oxford. A jumble of GC and stage interest juxtaposed the likes of teams DSM and BikeExchange, with Trek-Segafredo and a confused FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope apparently unsure as to whether they were going for the stage or the yellow leader’s jersey.
Brown found herself isolated towards the finish, having to move up on the outside of the bunch and lacking any discernible support from her team. Emilia Fahlin swooped in at the 11th hour, but by that time Trek-Segafredo already had their considerable horse power in a row – ostensibly for their sprinter, Chloe Hosking.
But, as Ellen van Dijk peeled off the front it was Elisa Longo Borghini, not Hosking, who launched with 600 metres still to go and maintained her speed. Even as Copponi and Wiebes came past her in the battle for the stage win, the Italian hung on for third place – and three bonus seconds – even adding a consummate bike throw to ensure an encroaching Tereza Neumanova didn’t sneak in and steal those precious seconds.
The combination of a small gap between Longo Borghini and Brown and the additional bonus seconds was enough to give the Trek-Segafredo rider a one-second lead over the Australian and clinch the overall win. Niewiadoma finished third overall at five seconds.
Wiebes once again showed herself to be in a class of one, taking a comfortable victory while Copponi hung on for a closer margin than usual for second. The Dutch rider was somewhat downcast at the finish, however, revealing Team DSM’s scuppered plan to give her lead-out woman, Charlotte Kool, a chance for victory.
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