When the „Roubaisiennes“ take the stage

Elisa Longo Borghini : “I’m not afraid of the cobblestones”

Aware of the magnitude of the occasion, the riders in the women’s peloton are gearing up for the first edition of Paris–Roubaix Femmes, scheduled for Saturday 2 October, after their debut on the cobblestones of northern France was frustrated in October 2020 and again last spring. The world of cycling is awash with questions about the favourites to win the inaugural edition, wondering what it takes to shine in this race and whether the decisive attributes are exactly the same as in the men’s competition. Five of these favourites, particularly excited about this momentous event, tell us more about their relationship with the Queen of Classics as the countdown to their initiation on the cobblestones ticks away. Even though Elisa Longo Borghini is adamant that she’ll ride for her team-mate Ellen van Dijk, she’ll be one of the champions to follow because of her pedigree and her knowledge of the cobblestones.

Elisa Longho Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)
Ornavasso (Piemonte, Italy), 10 December 1989
Teams : Top Girls Fassa Bortolo (2011), Hitec Products (2012-2014), Wiggle Honda (2015), Wiggle High5 (2016-2018), Trek-Segafredo (2019-2021)
Major results :
2012 : 3rd of the World Championships, 3rd du GP de Plouay-Bretagne
2013 : winner of Trofeo Alfredo Binda, 2nd of the Flèche Wallonne Femmes
2014 : winner of the Tour de Bretagne, 2nd of the Grand Prix de Plumelec, 3rd of the Flèche Wallonne Femmes
2015 : winner of the Tour des Flandres, winner of the Route de France
2016 : winner of the Giro d’Emilia, 3rd of the Olympic Games in Rio
2017 : winner of the Strade Bianche, 2nd of the Giro Rosa, 3rd of La Course by le Tour de France, Italian champion
2019 : 5th of the World Championships
2020 : 3rd of the World Championships, 3rd of the Giro Rosa, 2nd of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, Italian champion (road race + TT)
2021 : winner of the GP de Plouay, winner of the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, 2nd of the Strade Bianche, 3rd of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, 3rd of Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, Italian champion (road race + TT)
An anecdote: An eight-time Italian champion (three for road racing and five for individual time trial), Elisa is the daughter Guidina Dal Sasso who claimed six national titles as an individual and five in the relay as a cross-country skier in the 80s.

It’s not the first time for the name Longo Borghini to appear on a start list of Paris-Roubaix. Thanks to the inception of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, Elisa keeps following the path of Paolo who was a dedicated domestique in teams like Barloworld and Liquigas. “I got the passion for cycling because of my brother who is eleven years older than me”, she explained. “He took up cycling way before me and I’ve wanted to emulate him. Therefore, taking part in Paris-Roubaix after him is great! Since I have a strong passion for this sport, I’ve always followed this race – but all the other races as well, actually. My first big recollection of Paris-Roubaix is the entrance of Franco Ballerini on the velodrome for its last race ever (on 15 April 2001). When he unzipped his jersey to show his t-shirt “Merci Roubaix”, I was only 11 years old but I was particularly emotional about it.”
“2012 is the edition that stuck with me”, she continued. “Tom Boonen won an absolutely fascinating race that day. My brother rode Paris-Roubaix twice, in 2008 (80th) and 2014 (72nd) and I particularly remember the latter because I saw it on several cobbled sectors. I was watching everything attentively. So it wasn’t a new terrain for me when we went to recce the course of “our” Roubaix earlier this year. We also did two laps of the velodrome and it was moving.”

The reigning Italian champion for road racing and individual time trial, Longo Borghini is currently third in the UCI world ranking behind the untouchable Dutch women Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen. She’s fourth of the 2021 UCI Women’s WorldTour of which she has won two legs: the Alfredo Binda Trophy in March and the GP Plouay in August. Third in the Olympic road race, she’s also a specialist of Strade Bianche as she came second this year of the race she once won in 2017 when she underlined the architectural and cultural environment of the event also held on gravel roads. However, that doesn’t necessarily make her one of the top favourites for Paris-Roubaix Femmes. “I don’t think the race suits me very well”, she said. “But I’m convinced that I can be a great help for my team Trek-Segafredo.”

About the specificity of the Hell of the North, she’s categorical: “I’m obviously not afraid of the cobblestones”, she stated. “I’m a professional cyclist and I have to adjust myself to the races that are given to me. I know my job and I have to do it, end of the story. Our trainings on the cobbled sectors were also organised in order to test the equipment. We’ll use the bike Trek always provides for Paris-Roubaix: the Domane. I already have all the cobbled sectors in mind but we’ll recce them again in the lead up to the race. At the last minute, we’ll evaluate the situation to decide which wheels to use, which tyres, what to put on our hands and if we’re going to race with or without gloves. We’ll look into the last details.”

Talking about her role in the team Trek-Segafredo, she clarified: “I’ll race for what is our aim: to win the race with Ellen van Dijk.” The 34 year old Dutch rider has the experience required for this kind of event. Moreover, she’s the on-form champion of the moment as she recently took two major titles for herself: the European championship for road racing in Trento, Italy, on September 11, and the world championship for individual time trial in Brugge, Belgium, on September 20, getting her second rainbow jersey against the clock after the one of 2013. In both cases, she won alone as she crossed the line in Trentino 1’18’’ before Germany’s Liane Lippert. The ideal scenario for Trek-Segafredo would be a solo victory in Roubaix. Longo Borghini knows what it takes to make it happen. In 2014, she saw her brother escorting his leader Peter Sagan whereas in 2008 he was sharing this task at the service of Australia’s Baden Cooke with a debutant who didn’t manage to reach the velodrome: Chris Froome.