Women’s weekend recap: Strade Bianche

Elisa Longo Borghini's victory at Strade Bianche, the first women's WorldTour race of the season, had much drama attached to it.

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Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) zipped up the first Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey this season after out-climbing a small group of race favorites at Saturday’s Strade Bianche. With rain falling, the seasoned Italian pro gapped the two biggest threats — Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) and Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) — as she flew through the final slippery corners into the Piazza del Campo.

“I went full,” she explained after the race. “I knew that the first [rider] on the right-hand corner would be the first to the finish line, and I just went full.”

Final 5 kilometers

Key race action

The race’s rain-soaked gravel sectors quickly spiced things up for the women’s peloton. Early crashes marred the field, nearly catching out the eventual winner and her Wiggle-High5 team.

“I had a very bad crash in the longest gravel section and I thought I couldn’t make it,” Borghini said. “But I have super teammates. Audrey Cordon gave me her bike, and then eventually — after some kilometers — I could have my spare bike from the car.”

The deciding break of the day came on the penultimate gravel sector. Borghini, Deignan, Niewiadoma, Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott), and Katrin Garfoot (Orica-Scott) attacked with 20km to go, establishing a solid gap that chasers struggled to close.

Meanwhile, Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) and Shara Gillow (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine) escaped the chasers on the final gravel sector and quickly bridged up to the front group. With a daring counterattack, the two riders blew through the leaders into the final steep climb of the race. It looked like the race winner would come from this two-woman assault, but the 16 percent gradient proved too much for Brand and Gillow and the race favorites swept by in the last 500 meters.

After the race, Deignan pointed at this moment as a deciding factor of the race. As the two groups converged on the narrow, steep city road, a moment of chaos struck with a motorbike blocking her way. “Elisa went first and Kasia went to make the move up the outside — as did I,” Deignan explains. “But there was a motorbike there. It was one big traffic mess. Elisa and Kasia got into the final corner together and battled it out to the finish, and I came in to secure third place.”

And it was on that final corner that Borghini secured her first Strade Bianche win. Niewiadoma hesitated on the road’s slick stone surface while Borghini dove into the corner at full speed. Confidence and experience paid off as Borghini exited the turn with an insurmountable lead into the final meters of the race.

“Between Flanders and the Olympics, this is one of the most beautiful victories, because this is such an amazing place and such an amazing race,” Borghini gushed afterward.

American Riders

Lauren Stephens (Tibco-SVB): 19th
Carmen Small (VéloConcept-Women): 31st
Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb): 41st
Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM): 61st
Brianna Walle (Tibco-SVB): 80th
Heather Fischer (Tibco-SVB): DNF
Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans): DNF

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