Dream Gent-Wevelgem victory lifts Elisa Balsamo to Tour of Flanders favourite status

Four victories this year have proved the world champion’s versatility but also her development since joining Trek-Segafredo

World champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) celebrates after winning the 2022 edition of Ghent-Wevelgem
World champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) celebrates after winning the 2022 edition of Ghent-Wevelgem
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty)

Elisa Balsamo will head to next week’s Tour of Flanders as one of the favourites for the first women’s Monument of the 2022 season.

The world champion has been on stellar form this season, taking four wins already. Sunday’s imperious sprint victory at Gent-Wevelgem has marked her out as the peloton’s most successful sprinter of the year so far.

Such is the 24-year-old’s superiority, on Sunday other teams were clearly trying to avoid taking her to the line, repeatedly sending attacks up the road. However, Balsamo was able to rely on her Trek-Segafredo team-mates to close down anything that moved.

“It was a very hard race. And also in the last kilometres there were a lot of attacks. My team was perfect, they closed every attack and they did a great job,” Balsamo explained after the race, the longest in the event’s 10-year history.

The only moment of jeopardy came when a group of 13 escaped late on, building a small lead that seemed to be gradually expanding. However, when European road and world time trial champion, Ellen van Dijk dropped back to Balsamo’s group she was able to close the gap in a matter of seconds.

“We panicked a little bit, but Ina [Teutenberg, sports director] was so good from the car, she kept us calm, then Ellen dropped back and closed the gap. She was incredible.” 

If it weren’t for the rainbow jersey Balsamo would have been hidden all day long. Elisa Longo Borghini, herself wearing the striking tricolore jersey of Italian champion could occasionally be spotted escorting her compatriot, while, in the latter part of the race Van Dijk and Shirin van Anrooij - another of Trek-Segafredo’s plethora of young talent - covered all the moves.

However, with her team-mates exhausted she was left to her own devices in the final sprint. In her previous team, Valcar Travel and Service she was often the beneficiary of an exemplary lead out, her colleagues releasing her with 200m to go. That has changed since her winter move to Trek-Segafredo.

In the last eight days she has won three WorldTour one-day races, and in each of them she has been left to fend for herself in the final kilometre. On each occasion she has not been found wanting, picking the right wheel and timing the delivery of her sprint to perfection.

The only sprinter who can currently threaten Balsamo is Lorena Wiebes. The Dutchwoman was forced into second place behind Balsamo at last week’s Brugge-De Panne, but roles have been reversed on their two previous head-to-heads. The DSM rider taking the win at Ronde van Drenthe and winning the sprint for third place at Omloop het Nieuwsblad in February.

When it comes to the Tour of Flanders though, the Italian is likely the more versatile.

Form, ability on short climbs, adroitness in positioning and team support are everything Balsamo needs to win next week’s Tour of Flanders. However, she has never placed better than 15th, and Flanders has never finished in a group of over 20. If it does though, Balsamo will be there or thereabouts. 

“It is very hard race, now I have one week for rest, and I really need some rest,” she said. “Today I won my favourite race, it’s dream come true.”

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.