The tears came quickly and in plentiful supply after Elisa Balsamo sprinted to victory in the Flanders World Championships road race. Then she couldn't stop smiling, beaming as she entered her winner's press conference, the only thing that wiped the smile away was when she turned to her left and looked in awe at "the greatest champion" Marianne Vos sat next to her, who she had just beaten to the rainbow jersey.]
"Yes, I'm surprised," the 23-year-old said. "My team was super good today, we did such a perfect race and also the lead-out was perfect. It’s unbelievable to wear this jersey, I'm so happy."
She had liked the look of the tough finish and was piloted perfectly by her Italian team-mates before Elisa Longo Borghini unleashed a burst of power to draw her clear, Balsamo then having enough left to withstand a charging Vos to finally break the four-year-long Dutch grip over the rainbow jersey.
"This wasn't an easy season," Balsamo admits. "I trained a lot for the track and the Olympic Games didn't go quite as I had hoped. So when I came back from Tokyo I trained really hard only for this big goal and this is my revenge for the season."
Now, another goal takes precedence. Finishing her degree.
"I really love classics studies," Balsamo says, literature rather than the races that take place on these roads in the spring. "I think this winter it’s my big goal [to finish her degree], because after cycling maybe I want a new life, maybe as a journalist," a cry of horror goes up. "Yes, I’ll study hard."
Balsamo admits she never would have believed she'd be making the step up to WorldTour level next year in the rainbow jersey, joining Longo Borghini at Trek-Segafredo.
"I already don't think about it," she says, the excitement almost too much to bear. "But I think for Valcar Travel & Service [her current squad], this jersey can change the team. I already hope that it can help them to find some sponsors and make a good team for the other girls. For us, it’s something really big."
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