Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling’s Elisa Longo Borghini was won the Strade Bianche, in the spectacular renaissance city of Siena, in the most exciting finale to the modern Tuscan Classic yet. After seizing the lead on the steep climb into the city, the Italian Time Trial Champion held off the attentions of Polish Champion Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) on the wet, winding, flagstoned streets, to take the victory on the iconic Piazza del Campo, with last year’s winner Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) coming over in third.
“This is amazing!” Longo Borghini said at the finish. “I had a very bad crash in the longest gravel section and I thought I couldn’t make it, but I have super teammates. Audrey Cordon gave me her bike, and then eventually - after some kilometres - I could have my spare bike from the car.
“The team just rode amazingly, and this victory is for my team, because today the girls and the staff worked so well.
“For me this is such a prestigious victory, and I think I will remember this for all my life!” she added.
The first half of the 127km race saw the peloton largely stay together, with the rolling roads of Tuscany causing numbers of riders to be dropped out of the back of the peloton, rather than riders attacking off the front. At the midway point, however, came the potentially race-ending catastrophe, when a crash on the long San Martino in Grania section of white road mean she needed to change her bike.
A quick exchange with Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling teammate Cordon-Ragot meant that Longo Borghini was able to quickly rejoin the front of the race - and was able to take her own spare bike from the team car soon afterwards - but it mean that the Italian was to be without her French teammate in the latter stages of the race.
Finally, a breakaway did escape, with three riders managing to get more than a minute clear. As they were caught on the steep, gravelled climb at Vico d’Arbia, with just over 20km to go, however, Longo Borghini accelerated and pulled what was to become the winning group clear.
With her were Niewiadoma, Deignan, and Annemiek van Vleuten and Katrin Garfoot (Orica-Scott), and working together they were able to pull out a lead of around 30 seconds on the remains of the peloton.
With a seemingly race-winning lead in the final 5km the break was suddenly caught and passed by a counterattack from Shara Gillow (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine) and Lucinda Brand (Sunweb), who had chased across from the following group. Suddenly, it was Brand who looked to be heading to victory as she passed under the final kilometre banner and began the final climb to the finish.
“I was sure I was one of the strongest among those girls,” Longo Borghini explained. “And I know that normally when you attack like this it’s because you are finished, and you just want to gain a small gap for getting the best position on the climb; but then you bounce back.”
Longo Borghini was biding her time, however, and an acceleration on the steep Siena streets saw the Italian take the lead. She was closely followed by Niewiadoma but, as the two of them swept into the Piazza del Campo, the Polish Champion was unable to come around the Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling rider.
“I went full. I knew that the first on the right hand corner would be the first to the finish line, and I just went full,” Longo Borghini smiled.
“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.”
The Strade Bianche was the first event in the 2017 UCI Women’s WorldTour, so Longo Borghini takes the first cyclamen-coloured leaders jersey of the season-long competition.
1. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling)
2. Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling)
3. Elizabeth Deignan (Boels-Dolmans)