'If you don’t believe in your attack you never win' — Elisa Longo Borghini post Paris-Roubaix

Italian soloed to victory at second Paris-Roubaix Femmes from 34km out

Elisa Longo Borghini
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rarely are 14th century Italian poets invoked in press conferences. It's usually staid comments about the legs feeling good or having faith in one's team. It was different on Saturday, as Elisa Longo Borghini spoke eloquently about one of the biggest victories of her career.

Speaking about the experience of riding Paris-Roubaix for a second time, and this time winning, the Italian said: "It’s like going through the Dantesque hell and then being in the paradise."

Riding on hard cobbles in the dust might well fit in as one of the punishments in Dante's Inferno, but Longo Borghini conquered the pavé, attacking from over 33km out to solo to victory in the end, in a race she revealed that she wasn't supposed to ride. She always had faith in her move, however.

"If you don’t believe in your attack you never win," the Trek-Segafredo rider explained to the press. 

"It was pure instinct actually," Longo Borghini said. "I saw the breakaway was caught, and I thought it was a good move to be on the front, and put Lucinda in the best position to follow wheels, and make SD-Worx chase me. Therefore, I just went full from there on. I can't believe it."

The Italian national anthem always feels triumphant, and it was particularly apposite on Saturday afternoon, as the Trek-Segafredo rider lifted the cobblestone above her head in her national champion's jersey.

Roubaix is just the latest title to be added to her palmarès, which also contains a win at the Tour of Flanders, two Trofeo Alfredo Binda victories, and Strade Bianche.

It was a redemptive ride for Longo Borghini, who had struggled to be at her usual top level thanks to illness. She said, matter-of-factly, that as soon as she returned to health she performed.

"The beginning of the season was not ideal for me, I got sinusitis and I couldn’t really breathe. I had to do a step back to do two forwards. I skipped Amstel and Brabantse Pijl because I had to take antibiotics. 

"I wasn’t supposed to come to this race, the team made me come here and I had no pressure at all. 

"In the end I felt really good, because I did everything good this winter, and this spring I was just sick for the entire time. I couldn't perform the way I was supposed to. As soon as I got healthy I performed well."

The Italian finished third at the inaugural edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, behind her Trek teammate Lizzie Deignan, who also won from a long solo attack.

Asked if the team has been doing something special to give them an advantage in The Hell of the North, Longo Borghini said: "I think we have the best bike for this type of race."

"The [Trek] Domane has been projected specially for Roubaix. Equipment makes a huge difference. We are testing the materials during the winter in terms of performing the best in this race. The technical staff have put a lot of work into it, and I’m thankful to them. 

"It’s such a world you don’t see, it’s not very much highlighted but it’s really fundamental for us. They are trying to put us on the best bike ever, and I think they did. Honestly, I think the Domane is the perfect bike for Roubaix."

While she has rode both editions, they were vastly different, with October's race ridden in the rain and mud, as opposed to the sun and dust of Saturday.

"The weather conditions were completely different, but it was not an easy race," Longo Borghini said. "There was a lot of dust on the road, on the cobbles especially. When there is a dry road people are daring too much and there is more chaos. This is also why I tried to go a little bit alone and I could choose my lines."

However, there was one moment, with 18.9km to go on the sector of Camphin-en-Pévèle, where the Trek rider ran wide on a corner and only just stayed upright.

"Last year I probably crashed four or five times, and this year I learned that you always need to keep pedalling," she said. "I'm very much looking forward to hearing a good joke from the men's team about this, because last year they were joking about my cadence, which was very low in sectors, and this year they will probably joke about my turn, but I take it in a good way, I like it."

After crossing the line, Longo Borghini rapped her knuckles on her head, in reference to being a "wood-head", which is an Italian phrase. She laughed when asked to explain it.

"I’m a very stubborn person, and since my spring wasn’t ideal I was a little bit angry," she explained. "We say in Italian I am a little bit of a wood-head, because my head is really tough. That’s my tough head that brought me here. 

"It’s the amazing work of my teammates, the amazing work of the staff that is not in the highlights. The good morale that my family gives me, especially my boyfriend."

The commitment of her boyfriend, fellow Trek-Segafredo rider Jacopo Mosca, helped give Longo Borghini the energy to perform, she said.

"He finished Tour of Sicily yesterday and he flew here to say hi for ten minutes and then flew back to altitude."

The Italian was clearly pleased to see more media attention on women's racing, especially as she said, the race was "intense and nice, and ridden from the beginning".

"I'm really looking forward to the upcoming races, especially the Tour de France," she continued. "I always try to say that Tour de France is returning, we don’t have to forget history. It’s back because there have been many women riding in the past, and we are thankful to them because they made history."

Longo Borghini is now part of that story, being the second ever winner of Roubaix. She has established herself as one of the greats of her generation, and yet she still cannot fully grasp it.

"I still don’t really believe in it actually," she concluded. "You’re riding in this velodrome where the history of cycling has been made, and in the end I’m just Elisa."

That's Elisa, Paris-Roubaix champion now.

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